Henry Moore OM, CH

Relief Head


Not on display

Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Object: 314 × 278 × 30 mm
Lent from a private collection 1994
On long term loan

Catalogue entry


Relief Head 1923 is one of Henry Moore’s earliest surviving sculptures. It was made while he was a student at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where he studied from September 1921 to June 1924. The relief sculpture depicts a male face surrounded by an oval line delineating hair, a hood, or possibly a halo. The outline of the face is not symmetrical; an irregular peak above the right eyebrow suggests an uneven hairline. The features of the face have been incised into the surface of the shallow, almost square slate stone. Both eyes are open, and appear to be looking straight ahead. The man’s right eye is slightly larger and is positioned slightly higher on the face than his left eye. Although his mouth is not wide, he has thick lips, which correspond to his heavy eyelids and brow. The identity of the man represented in Relief Head is unknown, and Moore probably constructed the image from his imagination.
On entering Tate’s collection in 1994 the adjective ‘relief’ was dropped from the title of this sculpture because it was then a gallery convention not to use words that identified the object type – painting, sculpture, relief – in the titles of artworks. The word ‘relief’ was restored to the title in 2013 in line with the sculpture’s listing in Moore’s catalogue raisonné, published in 1957. This sculpture is one of only two known works by Moore made in slate. The other, Head 1930 (private collection), is a three-dimensional, albeit narrow sculpture of a head and neck mounted onto a freestanding wooden square base.1 Slate is a sedimentary rock that is found globally, but in the UK is quarried in north Wales, Cumbria and Cornwall. The stone has a propensity to split into thin sheets, rendering it generally unsuitable for carving in three dimensions. Instead, slate is more commonly known as a building material, and is used for roof and floor tiles; its flat character has meant that it has also been used historically for tombstones. In a conversation with the curator and critic David Sylvester in 1963 Moore recalled that early in his career, owing to the expense of the stones and marbles conventionally used for sculpture, he would ‘buy odd random pieces of stone from any stonemason’, and this may help explain the use of slate for Relief Head 1923.2

Alice Correia
November 2012


Head 1930 is illustrated in David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, 1957, 5th edn, London 1988, p.54.
Henry Moore cited in David Sylvester, ‘Henry Moore talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, BBC Radio, broadcast 14 July 1963, pp.305–7 Tate Archive TGA 200861, pp.19–20. An edited version of this conversation was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963.
A pointing machine is a measuring tool used by sculptors to make like-for-like copies of sculptures. The device includes adjustable rods on an armature that are used to measure specific points on the surface of a modelled sculpture. The tool measures the width, height and depth of these points from a chosen position and these dimensions are then used to accurately carve into a block of stone or wood. Each time a point (or measurement) is taken, a small hole is drilled into the corresponding block of stone to indicate the point to which the sculptor should carve. The first point of reference is the highest relief point; on a sculpture of a head this might be a protruding nose. This ensures that the sculptor does not carve away too much material. Carvings made with the use of a pointing machine are often pockmarked, where the point has been drilled fractionally too deep. For an example of a sculpture made with a pointing machine with visible point marks, see Auguste Rodin, The Kiss 1901–4 (Tate N06228).
See Ian Dejardin, ‘Catalogue’, in Henry Moore at Dulwich Picture Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London 2004, p.37.
For Domenico Rosselli, Virgin and Child 1450–98, see http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O137490/virgin-and-child-relief-rosselli-domenico/, accessed 15 November 2012.
See John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.33. Moore’s subversive act when making the work is possibly one of the reasons why the work survived while his other pieces of coursework did not.
Ibid., p.33.
Henry Moore quoted in John James Sweeney, ‘Henry Moore’, Partisan Review, March–April 1947, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.46.
See John and Véra Russell, ‘Conversations with Henry Moore’, Sunday Times, 17 December 1961, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.47.
A photograph of Moore dated c.1922–3 standing in his sister’s garden next to Dog 1922 and Mother and Child 1922 is reproduced in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, p.150.
However, in an installation photograph of the Marlborough exhibition the sculpture does not appear to be painted. Even though the photograph is black and white, this is still clear.
Ann Garrould, in conversation with the author, 19 November 2013.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Henry Moore’, in William Rubin (ed.), Primitivism in Twentieth-Century Art, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1984, vol.2, p.599.
Sir Michael Sadler was an important influence on Moore and was a prominent early collector of his sculpture. At Leeds Sadler was active in the University’s arts, drama and music societies, and he established a programme of public lectures on the arts, inviting speakers including Roger Fry. Sadler also gave lectures on artists such as Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh, based on works in his own collection. Sadler was at the centre of artistic activities in Leeds and as an educationalist made his collection available as much as possible, frequently lending and showing items to artists and students in the city. In later life Moore acknowledged the importance of Sadler to his artistic education noting that ‘he really knew what was going on in modern art’. See Wilkinson 2002, p.44. Henry Moore’s sculpture Figure 1931 (Tate T00240) was formerly in Sadler’s collection.
Moore cited in Donald Carroll, The Donald Carroll Interviews, London 1973, p.35, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.44.
Wilkinson 1984, p.599. On the basis of Wilkinson’s research the art historian Christa Lichenstern went on to compare Head with Gauguin’s carved relief head Tehura, Also Called Teha'amana 1891–3 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) although this comparison is less convincing. Tehura, Also Called Teha'amana is a wooden mask-like relief sculpture depicting a Tahitian girl and bears no similarity to Moore’s Head in subject matter or form. In making the comparison it possible that Lichenstern was attempting to link Moore and Gauguin and their shared application of direct carving. See Christa Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London 2008, p.25 and p.420 note 43. For Gauguin’s Tehura, Also Called Teha'amana 1891–3, see http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/index-of-works/resultat-collection.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5Bzoom%5D=0&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BxmlId%5D=015289&tx_damzoom_pi1%5Bback%5D=en%2Fcollections%2Findex-of-works%2Fresultat-collection.html%3Fno_cache%3D1%26zsz%3D9, accessed 26 July 2012.
See Robert Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, 1938, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1986, pp.104–22.
For more on primitivism see Colin Rhodes, Primitivism and Modern Art, London 1994.
Christopher Green, ‘Expanding the Canon: Roger Fry’s Evaluations of the “Civilized” and the “Savage”’, in Christopher Green (ed.), Art Made Modern: Roger Fry's Vision of Art, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London 1999, p.126.
Moore quoted in Sweeney 1947, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.44.
See Hilary Diaper (ed.), The Sadler Gift 1923, Leeds 2012, p.12.
See Colin Rhodes, ‘Burlington Primitive: Non-European Art in The Burlington Magazine Before 1930’, Burlington Magazine, vol.146, no.1211, 2004, pp.98–104.
André Salmon, ‘Negro Art’, Burlington Magazine, vol.36, no.205, 1920, p.166.
In his interview with Donald Carroll Moore recalled going to Zwemmer’s bookshop in London and reading the magazines and books. See Carroll 1973, p.35, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.44.
See Henry Moore, letter to Jocelyn Horner, August 1923, in Wilkinson 2002, p.50.
Rutherston, who was the Bradford-born son of German-Jewish immigrants anglicised his surname in 1916, while his brother retained the family name.
Moore 1923, in Wilkinson 2002, p.50.
Ibid., p.80.
See Richard Cork, Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 2009, p.43. For an image of Gauguin’s The Yellow Christ, see http://www.albrightknox.org/collection/collection-highlights/piece:gauguin-yellow-christ/, accessed 26 July 2012.
For examples of sculpture by Alan Durst and Vernon Hill see Benedict Read and Peyton Skipwith, Sculpture in Britain Between the Wars, exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 1968.
Hedgecoe 1968, p.23.
While in Paris in the spring of 1922 Moore saw Auguste Pellerin’s collection of paintings by Paul Cézanne. On the experience of seeing Cézanne’s painting, Moore stated that it ‘was like seeing Chartres Cathedral’; see Russell 1961, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.50. To date this remark has been used by scholars to demonstrate the huge impact Cézanne had on Moore’s artistic development. However it is also important to recognise that visiting Chartres was itself a formative artistic experience.
See Eric Gill, letter to Henry Moore, 20 May 1931, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Henry Moore, ‘Romanesque Sculpture’, Chichester Nine Hundred, Chichester 1975, p.11, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.111.

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