Henry Moore at Tate Britain

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The day after visiting Tate Modern to see the Klee and Schendel exhibitions, we decided to go along to the original Tate Gallery – these days known as “Tate Britain”. We hadn’t been there for a while and there had been a number of major changes since our last visit. The building has been refurbished and they have rehung the permanent exhibition chronologically – more on that in another post.

Currently they have two rooms devoted to an exhibition of works by Henry Moore with 30 works including maquettes, drawings and large-scale sculptures.

My favourite of all the sculptures on display was his Recumbent Figure 1938
carved from Green Hornton stone. I’d originally seen it at the exhibition of his works held at Leeds City Art Gallery in 2011.

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Most of the other larger works on display were bronzes cast from plaster models.

King and Queen is one of Moore’s most well known works. Two figures sitting on a bench. To me, they look like two ordinary people rather than royalty. Perhaps that’s what they were meant to be.

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King and Queen (1952-3)

Moore wrote about how he created the work

The ’King and Queen’ is rather strange. Like many of my sculptures, I can’t explain exactly how it evolved. Anything can start me off on a sculpture idea, and in this case it was playing with a small piece of modelling wax. …….. Whilst manipulating a piece of this wax, it began to look like a horned, Pan-like, bearded head. Then it grew a crown and I recognised it immediately as the head of a king. I continued and gave it a body. When wax hardens, it is almost as strong as metal. I used special strength to repeat in the body the aristocratic refinement I found in the head. Then I added a second figure to it and it became a ‘King and Queen’. I realise now that it was because I was reading stories to Mary, my six year old daughter, every night, and most of them were about kings and queens and princesses . . .  (source here)

Another couple, this time holding their child.

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Family Group (1949)

Produced for a school in Stevenage, it’s one of a series he produced shortly after WWII, which, according to an article in the Telegraph in 2010

are at once celebrations of the birth of his longed-for only child and, in effect, war memorials, affirmations, after the worst conflict the world had ever seen, of basic, universal human values.

And an old favourite of mine, a familiar figure we’ve seen many times at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, his “Draped Seated Figure” . I don’t know whether the sculpture has been relocated from the YSP, or is another casting, but she wasn’t there last time we visited.

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Draped Seated Figure 1957‑8

“Old Flo” as she was popularly known was originally installed on the Stifford estate in Tower Hamlets in the East End of London with the help of public money in 1962, with Henry Moore contributing by selling her at a minimal price. It was an attempt to make art accessible to ordinary people and stood on the estate until 1997. By then, the estate had been demolished and “Old Flo” was vandalised, smeared with paint. So she was transferred to the YSP who cleaned her up. There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding the work at the moment as Tower Hamlets Council put it up for sale last year. But there’s been something of an outcry about this to say the least.

Although it is good to see a collection of sculptures in a gallery like this, in some ways I think that the pristine works can appear rather sterile in such a setting. Many sculptures, including Henry Moore’s large scale works, look so much better and appealing when sited outdoors, like they are at the YSP and other similar sculpture parks. You can stand back and look at them as well as get in close.  They may be affected by the elements, but such weathering can actually improve them, allowing them to develop and evolve. And they show different aspects as the light changes during the day, with the changing weather and with the seasons. They can breathe and live rather than be suffocated indoors.

The exhibitions also includes some smaller works and macquettes and some of  his drawings including this one from the series made in the underground stations being used as air raid shelters during WWII

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