Henry Moore OM, CH

Atom Piece (Working Model for Nuclear Energy)

1964–5, cast 1965

Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Object: 1270 x 920 x 920 mm
Presented by the artist 1978

Not on display

Display caption

In 1963 Moore was invited by the University of Chicago to make a sculpture commemorating the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, which had been conducted at the university in 1942. Nuclear Energy, which is shown in the photograph above, was unveiled in 1967. This sculpture is a working model for Nuclear Energy. Moore intended it to suggest ‘a contained power and force’ appropriate to the subject. Its shape suggests a human skull and a mushroom cloud. In 1987, the city of Hiroshima, which had been destroyed by a nuclear bomb in 1945, purchased one of the seven casts.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry


As its subtitle suggests, Atom Piece (Working Model for Nuclear Energy) 1964–5 represents the intermediary stage in the development of a much larger sculpture, Nuclear Energy 1964–6, which Moore was commissioned to make for the University of Chicago to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first controlled generation of nuclear power, conducted by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in 1942.
Atom Piece (Working Model for Nuclear Energy) stands at just over one metre tall on a shallow circular base. It forms a single unit but comprises two distinct sections. The lower part is made up of three roughly textured vertical forms connected near the base by a horizontal shelf of bronze. These three column-like blocks merge and swell into the upper section, which takes the form of a highly polished dome (fig.1).
The lower section resembles a tripod, with three feet arching upwards into a thick, slightly concave platform, which hovers above the base. The irregular arches formed between the three feet are suggestive of caves or coastal arches and expose the underside of the sculpture (fig.2). The outer surfaces of these forms are heavily textured with horizontal striations, forming a visual parallel to cliff stacks that may owe a debt to the legs of Moore’s earlier Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960 (Tate T00395). Each of the three upright forms are shaped and textured differently. The largest is thin and wide with a concave outer face, another is smoother and has a flat lower edge, and the third is faceted and curves sharply inward. Two of them feature trenchant right-angled planes, suggesting that they have been cut into and hollowed out to produce the internal cavity at the centre of the sculpture. Visible between the upright forms are the underside of the dome, which curves slightly to echo its outer surface, and the smooth horizontal plane below it, which has been incised with a single concave groove. The texture of the underside of the dome indicates that a spatula was used to apply the plaster to the model from which the bronze was cast. A horizontal seam encircles each leg where it meets the dome, identifying where the upper and lower sections were welded together after casting (fig.3). A circular plug, visible halfway along the seam on the outer face of the widest leg, and a bronze patch marked by a square welding seam on the surface of the dome, were probably inserted to correct faults in the bronze.

From plaster to bronze

Titling Nuclear Energy and exhibiting Atom Piece

Sources and symbolism

The Henry Moore Gift

Alice Correia
September 2013


Iain A. Boal, ‘Ground Zero: Henry Moore’s Atom Piece at the University of Chicago’, in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, p.224.
Henry Moore, letter to William McNeill, 2 December 1963, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Henry Moore cited in David H. Katzive, ‘Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy: The Genesis of a Monument’, Art Journal, vol.32, no.3, Spring 1973, p.286.
William McNeill, letter to Roger Berthoud, 15 March 1985, p.2, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
See Boal 2003, p.225.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, pp.104, 113, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.215.
Henry Moore, letter to William McNeill, 22 November 1967, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto 1987, p.211.
Henry Moore, letter to Vice President Daly, University of Chicago, 1 December 1965, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Albert Elsen, ‘Henry Moore’s Reflections on Sculpture’, Art Journal, vol.26, no.4, Summer 1967, p.353.
Derek Howarth, ‘Assisting Henry Moore 1964–70’, in Anita Feldman and Malcolm Woodward, Henry Moore: Plasters, London 2011, p.112.
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.300.
Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 4: Complete Sculpture 1964–73, London 1977, p.11.
Henry Moore, letter to William McNeill, 17 August 1964, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Henry Moore, letter to William McNeill, 30 October 1964, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Henry Moore, letter to Heinz Ohff, 8 March 1967, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Seam lines usually become more prominent when the metal used to weld the sections together has a different composition to the rest of the bronze.
Henry Moore cited in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, BBC Radio, broadcast 14 July 1963, pp.3–4, Tate Archive TGA 200816.
William McNeill, letter to Henry Moore, 23 July 1965, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
William McNeill, letter to Henry Moore, 24 September 1965, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
University of Chicago press release, 25 September 1965, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
William McNeill, letter to Roger Berthoud, 15 March 1985, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Boal 2003, pp.230.
Anon., ‘Bacon and Moore Again in Powerful Relation’, Times, 14 July 1965, p.15.
G.S. Whittet, ‘Farewell to Flat, Goodbye to Square: London Commentary’, Studio International, October 1965, pp.169–70.
Ibid., p.170.
Edwin Mullins in Sunday Telegraph, 1 August 1965, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Norbert Lynton, ‘Reality Abandoned’, Guardian, 29 July 1965, p.6.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of His Life and Work, London 1965, p.246.
Ibid., pp.246, 248.
The sculpture was unveiled at 3:36 pm, the exact time of Fermi’s experiment twenty-five years earlier.
Harold Haydon, ‘The Testimony of Sculpture’, transcript of dedication made at unveiling of Nuclear Energy 1964–6 at the University of Chicago, 2 December 1967, Tate Archive TGA 20011/11.
Elsen 1967, p.353.
Henry Moore cited in David Finn, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Environment, New York 1977, p.448.
Errol Jackson cited in Boal 2003, p.234.
Boal 2003, p.234.
Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, revised edn, London 2003, p.408.
Chris Stephens, ‘Henry Moore’s Atom Piece: The 1930s Generation Comes of Age’, in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, p.250.
Elsen 1967, p.353.
Moore cited in Katzive 1973, p.286.
Stephens 2003, p.251.
Henry Moore, letter to Arthur Sale, 8 October 1938, Imperial War Museum Archive IWM ART 16597 2 a-b, http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19444, accessed 24 June 2013.
Leslie Banks, Arnold Bax, Adrian C. Boult and others, ‘Use Of Atomic Weapons’, Times, 14 December 1950, p.7.
Stephens 2003, p.251.
Catherine Jolivette, ‘Science, Art and Landscape in the Nuclear Age’, Art History, vol.35, no.2, April 2012, p.263.
See ‘Note on the Henry Moore Gift’, 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
These figures are based on those listed in a memo in the exhibition’s records; see Tate Public Records TG 92/344/2.
Norman Reid, letter to Mary Danowski, 31 August 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
See Judith Jeffries, letter to Joanna Drew, 3 October 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/9/400/1.

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