Yorkshire is home to many things, people, and places – all of them marvellous! Last month of course we looked at the famous staple food from our region with our feature on the rhubarb triangle. Well, in some ways, this month we go from one Yorkshire triangle to another. As well as being world renowned for our delicious food and stunning scenery, we can also confidently claim the title of being the ‘home of true British sculpture’. The Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle comprises the Leeds Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute with The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton, all within 30 minutes drive of each other. The triangle is popular with cultural seeking visitors to our county, as the venues all host some of the best examples of sculptural art in the world. A person largely responsible for this is Henry Moore. A famous sculptor, the Yorkshire man spent much of his life – and his income on setting up a legacy for future generations.

In our feature this month I look at the life of Henry Moore, his work and the legacy to art that he left behind.


Henry Moore was born in Castleford on the 30th July 1898. His father Raymond was of Irish heritage and worked as a pit deputy, then under manager at Wheldale Colliery. Although he had received little himself in the way of formal education, Raymond had an interest in music and literature and was determined that his sons would not follow him to a life down the mines. Despite being a poor family, he ensured that his children attended school and took their studies seriously. Henry was the seventh of eight children, and his artistic leanings soon became apparent even at infant and elementary schools in Castleford where he began modelling with clay and carving wood. At Sunday school, age 11 he heard all about Michelangelo and decided there and then that he would become a sculptor. His parents were not supportive of this career choice as they considered it to be manual labour – something Raymond did not want for his children, and Henry was encouraged into further education.

Taking his father’s advice he was accepted to attend Castleford Grammar School. The headmaster and his art teacher both noticed Moore’s talent and interest in art and he became more determined than ever to make the subject his future career. Despite this, not wanting to disappoint his father, he initially took a job teaching at the school.


During Henry’s informative years at the Grammar School, WWI was raging. As soon as he turned 18 he volunteered with the armed forces and became the youngest member of the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles regiment. On the 30th November 1917 Henry was injured in a gas attack at Bourlon Wood during the Battle of Cambrai. He spent time in hospital recuperating and then spent the rest of the war as a PT instructor. 

He said of that time, “for me the war passed in a romantic haze of trying to be a hero.” However, it didn’t take long for him to realise that war was far from playing at heroes. In a letter to his friend Arthur in 1940 he said ‘A year or two after the war the sight of a khaki uniform began to mean everything in life that was wrong and wasteful and anti-life. And I still have that feeling.’

In 1919, Moore became a student at the Leeds School of Art which would later be renamed Leeds College of Art. This was in thanks to an ex-serviceman’s grant enabling him to continue his studies. The school set up a sculpture studio just for him and it was at this time that he also met fellow sculptor Barbara Hepworth, with whom he would remain friends and professional rival for many years. Whilst at Leeds, he was given access to the private collection of Sir Michael Sadler, the university chancellor, and it was this collection which introduced Henry to Modernism.


In 1921, Henry won a scholarship for the Royal College of Art in London. He studied the ethnographic collections at both the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. This developed his style further from what had been somewhat romantic Victorian up to now. These days spent in the museums surrounding himself with art, both here and in Europe was what gave him the two themes which he would become synonymous with for the rest of his career – the mother and child, and the Chac Mool. 

Moore said of this time “Even when I was a student I was totally preoccupied by sculpture in its full spatial richness, and if I spent a lot of time at the British Museum in those days, it was because so much of the primitive sculpture there was distinguished by complete cylindrical realisation.”

Inspired by sculptors such as Jacob Epstein, Henry began using the method of direct carving where imperfections in the material and tool marks become part of the finished piece. Along with Moore, Hepworth and her first husband John Skeaping also took up the method which was at the time, revolutionary in British sculpture. The tutors at the college did not appreciate such a modern approach and the students were somewhat in conflict with them over this. In one particular exercise, Moore rebelled. He was asked to reproduce Domenico Rosselli’s The Virgin and Child by first modelling in plaster, then using a pointing machine to create it in marble. Henry carved the piece directly and then marked the surface with prick marks which would have been left by the machine. 


Following a 6-month travelling scholarship in 1924, Moore took a teaching post at the Royal College of Art working two days a week which allowed him plenty of time to focus on his own pieces. 1928 saw his first public commission. ‘West Wind’ was to adorn the walls of London Underground’s headquarters with other sculptors working on the other winds. The influence of Michelangelo and the Mayan Chac Mool were in clear evidence in West Wind. The same year he held his first solo exhibition at the Warren Gallery in London. 

Henry married Kiev-born Irina Radetsky in July 1929 who started posing regularly for him. The couple moved to Hampstead where several other artists were situated, including his old friend Hepworth. He started developing more abstract work, possibly influenced by regular trips to Paris viewing pieces by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Following six years teaching at the Royal College, Moore took up a post at the Chelsea School of Art as the Head of the Department of Sculpture. He dabbled briefly with surrealism and along with Paul Nash helped to organise the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936. The following year, fellow artist Robert Penrose purchased an abstract ‘mother and child’ sculpture from Moore. He was then subjected to a two-year campaign by residents and the local press who were not happy to see it displayed in his front garden. 

The 1930’s was also a time when Henry began to move away from direct carving to casting in bronze. This would prove to be a good commercial choice for him as he was better able to fulfil larger commissions. Late in the decade he met Kenneth Clark who became instrumental in securing exhibitions and commissions for the artist through his strong championing of his work.

■ Nuclear Energy, a sculpture by Henry Moore commemorates the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.


At the outbreak of war, Moore resigned his post at the Chelsea School of Art as it was evacuated to Northampton. Despite being most famous for his large and imposing sculptural pieces, Henry created some of the most iconic artworks of the Second World War. His sketches and drawings of Londoners sheltering from the Blitz in the Underground were powerfully emotive. Kenneth Clark, as chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) had previously tried to recruit Moore as a full-time war artist. He purchased some of the shelter drawings and commissioned further examples which Moore completed between autumn 1940 and spring 1941. Autumn 1940 was a difficult time for him as he and Irina were forced to move to the countryside when their Hampstead home was hit by bomb shrapnel. Hoglands, in Hertfordshire was where he would stay for the rest of his life.

In August 1941 the WAAC commissioned him again, this time to draw miners working underground in the Wheldale Colliery where his father had previously worked. The contrast between the shelter drawings – where people waited passively, and the miners – working aggressively at the coal-face was stark. These drawings went on tour through North America as part of the WAAC Britain at War exhibition and as a result massively boosted Moore’s international reputation. 


In March 1946, Irina gave birth to their daughter Mary, following several earlier miscarriages. The arrival of his daughter combined with the loss of his mother two years earlier (whom Mary was named after) inspired Moore to focus more on family and he began producing more ‘mother and child’ works, although he did continue to create some of his famous reclining figures. He visited America too, to see an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

Henry’s first large scale public bronze ‘Family Group’ was completed in 1950 for a secondary school in Stevenage. For this he used a previous design planned for an earlier commission that had been cancelled due to lack of funds. The 50’s was a time when significant commissions were coming thick and fast for the artist. ‘Reclining Figure: Festival’ was exhibited at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and later in the decade he produced a large marble reclining figure for UNESCO in Paris. He was so busy that he began to employ several assistants to work with him. 

Moore’s art was used to commemorate huge scientific development in the 60’s after the first ever controlled self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was achieved. The 12ft tall ‘Nuclear Energy’ sculpture was unveiled on the University of Chicago campus where the experiments had taken place underneath. Thought to represent a human skull atop a mushroom cloud, Moore wanted viewers to have the feeling of being in a cathedral. Another commission in the 60’s, but very different to the first was ‘Knife Edge Two Piece’ on College Green near the Houses of Parliament. 

Henry said of the commission “When I was offered the site near the House of Lords I liked the place so much that I didn’t bother to go and see an alternative site in Hyde Park. One lonely sculpture can be lost in a large park. The House of Lords site is quite different, it is next to a path where people walk, and it has a few seats where they can sit and contemplate it.”

By the 1970’s Moore was a very wealthy man, although he lived frugally. Beginning to worry about his legacy, he set up the Henry Moore Trust in 1972 and then in 1977 the Henry Moore Foundation. By the end of the 70’s there were around 40 exhibitions a year showing his work.

Henry Moore died at the age of 88 on the 31st August 1986 at his home in Hertfordshire.

■ Image © The Henry Moore Foundation


The Henry Moore Foundation is a registered charity established for the education and promotion of fine arts by Henry and his family. It runs two sites – his former home and studios in Hertfordshire, and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, adjoining Leeds Art Gallery. The site in Hertfordshire shows sculptures in their original setting, the studio is preserved as Henry left it and his home is also open to the public. This site is also home to the largest collection of his work in the world, as well as an archive for researchers.

The Institute in Leeds does not hold work by Henry Moore but is instead a centre for the study and enjoyment of sculpture with a varied programme of exhibitions and events showing a mix of historical, modern and contemporary sculpture from around the world. As well as the exhibitions, the Institute hosts a library dedicated to sculpture and a research archive. The Henry Moore Institute is free to visit and open 7 days a week, except bank holidays. From the 21st September, visitors will be able to see a major exhibition of work by Senga Nengudi, her first solo institutional exhibition outside the USA. Senga has been a trailblazer in sculpture for 50 years, a strong figure in the African American avant-garde scenes of LA and New York.


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