Henry Moore OM, CH



Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
African wonderstone on oakwood base
Object: 445 × 457 × 298 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1960

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  1. Moore drew inspiration from many sources, including natural forms and ancient sculptures. He also responded to the work of other artists working at the time. This sculpture is both organic and abstract. But its form and structure also link it to traditional portrait busts. This reflects Moore’s belief that ‘all the best sculpture I know is both abstract and representational at the same time’. Composition is an example of his radical inventiveness. Moore argued that surrealism and abstraction were not in conflict. He wrote of the importance of the ‘nonlogical, instinctive, subconscious part of the mind’ in his artistic process.

Gallery label, August 2020

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Catalogue entry


Composition 1932 is a sculpture in dark brown African wonderstone. In that it comprises a vertical form that swells upwards from the centre of a broader base, the sculpture is loosely reminiscent of a portrait bust – a head and neck rising from shoulders – although these human characteristics are not represented with any anatomical accuracy. Instead the sculpture is made up of rounded globular forms that seem to melt into each other, an effect achieved by the highly-polished finish. This in turn makes the sculpture appear as though it might be soft to touch. The forms curve upwards and outwards so that the widest part of the sculpture overhangs its own bottom edge, which sits on a cuboid base of stained oak.
When seen from the front, the central swelling – which could be deemed to be a human head – appears to be looking over the left shoulder. Two evenly-spaced convex bumps are suggestive of eyes, but there are no other protrusions, indentations or incisions that could be understood as facial features. Viewed from this angle the neck does not appear to be cylindrical as might be expected, but takes the shape of a rounded cuboid. At the front the neck curves inwards and narrows before sloping downwards and outwards to create a convex breastbone or chest. The curve of the chest is emphasised by the concentric rings of the sedimentary rock layers, which ripple outwards from the apex of the curve, towards two unevenly sized and shaped shoulders. The left shoulder is taller but narrower than the right, which appears to project backwards as though the sculpture has not been squared with the front but is instead presented on a diagonal.

Viewed from the side, the neck is seen to be wider than the head section, exacerbated by the presence of a rounded protrusion at the rear; this convex element at the nape of the neck replicates the concave curve of the neck and throat. However, its presence unbalances the head, which seems to be pulled backwards and down. From the rear the bulbous protrusion may be understood as a bun of hair or a ponytail, on which is a smaller, second bulge. The hair melts or fuses into the shoulder blades at the back of the sculpture. From this position, the horizontal section of the sculpture which forms the two shoulders appears to exist on a continuous diagonal from the lower left shoulder to the upper right, and when considered a single element resembles a rounded conical shape.

Alice Correia
January 2013


Herbert Read, ‘A Nest of Gentle Artists’, Apollo, September 1962, pp.536–40. See also Nicholas Thornton, ‘Introduction’, in Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson: A Nest of Gentle Artists in the 1930s, exhibition catalogue, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich 2009, p.2.
Andrew Causey, ‘Herbert Read and Contemporary Art’, in David Goodway, Herbert Read Reassessed, London 1998, p.127.
Henry Moore cited in Arnold Haskell, ‘On Carving’, New English Weekly, 5 May 1932, p.65–6, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.190.
Henry Moore, ‘Statement for Unit One’, in Herbert Read (ed.), Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, London 1934, pp.29–30, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.192.
Ibid., p.191.
Ibid., p.192.
Henry Moore cited in Haskell 1932, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.189.
Henry Moore 1934, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.191.
Ibid., p.191.
Frank Rutter, ‘Quoth the Raven: Henry Moore, His sculpture’, Sunday Times, 12 November 1933, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Anon., ‘Sculpture and Drawings by Henry Moore at the Leicester Galleries’, Apollo, December 1933, p.389.
Adrian Stokes, ‘Art: Mr Henry Moore’s Sculpture’, Spectator, 10 November 1933, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Anon., ‘Mr. Henry Moore’, Times, 4 November 1933, p.8.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: Sculptor, London 1934, p.14.
Henry Moore 1934, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.192.
Henry Moore cited in Haskell 1932, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.189.
Ibid., p.190.
Moore 1934, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.192.
See Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto 1987, p.71.
Geoffrey Grigson, ‘Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson’, Bookman, vol.85, no.506, November 1933, p.106.
Ibid., p.106.
Ibid., p.106.
Ibid., p.106.
Geoffrey Grigson, ‘A Comment on England’, Axis, no.1, January 1935, p.10.
Jennifer Mundy, ‘Comment on England’, in Chris Stephens (ed.), Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2010, p.28.
Ibid., p.28.
Christopher Green, ‘Henry Moore and Picasso’, in James Beechy and Chris Stephens (eds.), Picasso and Modern British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2012, p.139.
George Wingfield Digby, Meaning and Symbol in Three Modern Artists: Henry Moore, Edvard Munch, Paul Nash, London 1955, pp.70–1.
Ibid., pp.70–1.
Ibid., p.72.
Read 1934, p.14.
Christa Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London 2008, p.49.
For a facsimile of Documents, vol.2, no.3, 1930, see http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k32951f.image, accessed 30 July 2012.
Henry Moore, ‘Interview with Elizabeth Blunt’, Kaleidoscope, BBC Radio 4, 9 April 1973, transcript reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.167. For discussions of the debt Moore owed to Picasso see Herbert Read, Modern Sculpture, London 1964, pp.168–73, and Lichtenstern 2008, pp.47–52.
Green 2012, p.131.
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1969, London 1970, p.12.
Ibid., p.19.
John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, 2nd edn, London 1973, p.74; Michel Remy, Surrealism in Britain, Aldershot 1999, p.70. Although Remy does not provide evidence as to when or where Moore and Arp met, it is his contention that they did meet.
James Thrall Soby (ed.), Arp, New York 1958, pp.14–15.
Julia Kelly, ‘The Unfamiliar Figure: Henry Moore in French Periodicals of the 1930s’, in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, pp.58–9.
Ibid., p.59.
Moore recalled that he met Dalí ‘before he was well known, before he started being odd’. See John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration and Life as an Artist, London 1986, p.72.
Henry Moore cited in Edouard Roditi, Dialogues on Art, London 1960, pp.184–5, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.210–1.
See Andrew Robinson, The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris, London 2002.
Herbert Read notes Dorothea Ventris as the owner of these works in Read 1934, pls.16, 23.
Furniture by Breuer from the Ventris commission was sold at Sotheby’s in 2002 and was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with assistance from The Art Fund. See, for example, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O81735/desk-breuer-marcel/, accessed 30 July 2012.
See Michael Ventris, letter to Marcel Breuer, 25 June 1939, Breuer Papers, Syracuse University Library, http://breuer.syr.edu/xtf/view?docId=mets/3065.mets.xml;query=michael%20ventris;brand=breuer, accessed 30 July 2012.
Extensive correspondence between Michael Ventris and Naum Gabo is held in the Yale University Archive. See the Naum Gabo Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Archive, YCAL MSS 541, http://drs.library.yale.edu:8083/HLTransformer/HLTransServlet?stylename=yul.ead2002.xhtml.xsl&pid=beinecke:gabo&query, accessed 30 July 2012.
Lilian Somerville, letter to Michael Ventris, 16 November 1959, Tate Archive TGA 9712/2/48.
H.A. Lidderdale, letter to Fine Art Department, British Council, 9 April 1951, Tate Archive TGA 9712/2/48.
Lilian Somerville, letter to the Functional Officer, British Council in Athens, 26 April 1951, Tate Archive TGA 9712/2/48.
Minutes of a Meeting of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, 16 May 1957, Tate Public Records TG/4/2/742/2.
Jane Lascelles, letter to Henry Moore, 1 June 1961, Tate Public Records TG/20/6/1.
Harold Osborne ‘Two at the Tate’, Arts Review, 12 November 1976, p.605.
See, for example, Mary Ellis, letter to Henry Moore, 1978, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
C. Simms, letter to Mr Terry Measham, 16 December 1976, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.

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