Henry Moore OM, CH

Head of Serpent


Not on display

Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Object: 180 × 114 × 114 mm
Lent from a private collection 1994
On long term loan

Catalogue entry


Head of Serpent is a small, wall-mounted stone sculpture of a snake-like head thrusting forward from a circular base. Sharply incised narrow ovals on either side of the smoothly rounded head indicate the serpent’s eyes. Its jaws are improbably thick, and seen from the side the snake seems to smile. Inside its mouth are two triangular notches and, mysteriously, two neatly drilled holes. The cream travertine marble used in this work has a slight graining, producing black-brown streaks that run along the serpent’s head, emphasising its length and narrow eyes.
The sculpture was made in 1927 when Moore was working as a tutor at the Royal College of Art in London. Moore had taken up a teaching post in the sculpture department in 1924 after gaining his diploma from the college and continued working there until 1931. Although nothing is known about the precise circumstances in which Head of Serpent was made, it was probably carved at Moore’s studio, 3 Grove Studio, Adie Road, Hammersmith, where Moore lived and worked between 1926 and 1929. The sculpture is numbered 45 in the artist’s catalogue raisonné of 1957, which notes that it was made in the autumn of 1927. If correct, this means that the sculpture was completed only a few months before it was exhibited in Moore’s first solo exhibition in January 1928 at the Warren Gallery, London. This exhibition contained sculptures and drawings made over a seven-year period, the earliest work dating from 1922. When it was exhibited at the Warren Gallery, Head of Serpent was listed in the exhibition pamphlet as Snake’s Head. It was re-titled Head of Serpent in 1944 when it was included in critic Herbert Read’s book Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, which was later revised and reissued as the artist’s catalogue raisonné. Subsequent published literature has repeated the title Head of Serpent, but on entering the Tate collection its title was initially revised to Head of a Serpent in order to make the title read more easily. In 2014 the title was changed back to that listed in the artist’s 1957 catalogue raisonné.

Alice Correia
November 2012


W.J. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London 1983, p.25.
Henry Moore cited in Carl Tucker, ‘Creators on Creating: Henry Moore’, Saturday Review, March 1981, p.44, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.223.
For illustrations of Snake Head 1961 and Serpent 1973 see Strachan 1983, pp.26–30.
In the early 1970s Moore reviewed his drawings and sketchbooks with student Alan Wilkinson, who completed his doctorial thesis ‘The Drawings of Henry Moore’ (Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London) in 1974. The dates of drawings and sketches included in Wilkinson’s thesis were attributed in collaboration with Moore. Wilkinson subsequently became a leading Moore scholar and the first curator of the Henry Moore Centre at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. Although Wilkinson’s thesis remained unpublished until 1984, much of his research was utilised in the 1978 Tate exhibition catalogue The Drawings of Henry Moore, which dated Notebook No.2 to 1921–2.
There are no recorded statements by Moore about Head of Serpent and it was rarely exhibited during his lifetime. Due to its limited exposure in exhibitions it has received very little critical attention to date. However, existing scholarship concurs that it sprung from the same sources identified in relation to the 1924 Snake, specifically Moore’s interest in ancient Mexican art. See Strachan 1983, p.23, and Barbara Braun, Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World, New York 2000, p.140.
Henry Moore cited in James Johnson Sweeny, ‘Henry Moore’, Partisan Review, March–April 1947, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.44.
Ibid., p.45.
Braun 2000, p.96. Braun notes that public interest in ancient Mexico had been fuelled since 1923 by regular features in the London Illustrated News.
For reports on these excavations see Anon., ‘Ruins in British Honduras’, Times, 12 January 1926, p.11, and Anon., ‘More Mayan Ruins Discovered’, Times, 10 February 1926, p.13.
Strachan 1983, p.19.
In his introduction to the book Moore noted, ‘It has been a wonderful experience for me to recapture the delight, the excitement, the inspiration I got in these pieces as a young and developing sculptor’. See Henry Moore at the British Museum, London 1981, p.16.
Ibid., p.74.
See Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Drawings 1916–29, London 1996, p.71.
Henry Moore cited in Herbert Read, Henry Moore: Sculptor, London 1934, p.14.
Ibid, p.13.
Ibid., p.13.
Henry Moore, ‘Primitive Art’, Listener, 24 April 1941, pp.589–9, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.104.
Ibid., p.104.
Wilkinson 2002, p.104, note 8.
Strachan 1983, p.25.
For further information on Teotihuacán, see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414, accessed 30 July 2012.
Braun 2000, p.104.
See William York Tindall, ‘D.H. Lawrence and the Primitive’, in Sewanee Review, vol.45, no.2, April–June 1937, p.203.
In 1960 Moore stated that he ‘read the whole of D.H. Lawrence’ between the ages of twenty and twenty-two (between 1918 and 1920). See Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture, London 1966, p.50.
Henry Moore, letter to Cecilia Sempill, 4 and 5 September 1928, Tate Archive TGA 8424/69.
For further information on Xochicalco, see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/939, accessed 22 November 2012.
Strachan 1983, p.16.
Henry Moore cited in John and Vera Russell, ‘Conversations with Henry Moore’, Sunday Times, 24 December 1961, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.54.
See Alexander Davis, ‘Henry Moore’s Library: A Commentary’, in Alexander Davis (ed.), Henry Moore Bibliography. Volume 5: Index 1986–1991, Much Hadham 1994, p.89.
See Wilkinson 2002, p.54.
Anon., ‘Art Exhibition: Henry Moore’, Times, 26 January 1928, p.10.
Anon., ‘Yorkshire Miner’s Artist-Son’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 30 January 1928, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
P.G. Konody, ‘Mr. Henry Moore’s Sculpture’, Observer, 29 January 1928, p.14.

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