Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Anthony Caro, ‘The Master Sculptor’

Observer, 27 November 1960, p.21.

One the occasion of Henry Moore’s first exhibition for ten years, his position as the dominating figure in British art is discussed below by one of the young generation of British sculptors, Anthony Caro. Caro was a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1951 when one day he knocked, unannounced, at the door of Moore’s farmhouse in Hertfordshire. He was invited in to tea. Six months later he was taken on as assistant, and stayed for two years. Last year he himself won the Sculpture Prize at the first Paris Biennale.
By Anthony Caro
When you try to think clearly about Henry Moore you are deafened by the applause. The picture is not man-size, but screen-size. It is as if the build-up into a great public figure has got out of hand, and, like a film star’s big “front,” has clouded our view of the real Moore.
In England the history of international art successes has been poor. Since Turner, Moore was the first artist with the necessary qualifications to fit naturally clothes of an international size. His pre-war work is evidence that the British art public were not wrong in seeing him as their saviour from the provincialism of even the best of his forebears like Sickert or Wyndham Lewis. He worked in terms of the mainstream of avant-garde art, and yet his work was intelligible to the English.
As a sort of public relations ambassador, Moore has been a big factor in winning the battle for modern art in Britain. He has been responsible for making modern art a clean word here. He took the brunt of uneducated insult early on, but lots of people now feel – because of him – that there must be something in it.
All students of sculpture are indebted to him, and all at one time or another in their careers are influenced by his work; he provides an alphabet and a discipline within which to start to develop. His success has created a climate for all of us younger sculptors and has given us confidence in ourselves which without his efforts we would not have felt.
A heavy price for his stardom
However, I think that Moore has paid heavily for his stardom. Because of his self-imposed isolation away from London, and the impossibility of casual meetings on neutral ground with younger artists, he has grown out of touch with post-war developments in art. Moreover, in his later works it sometimes appears that he is affected by a consciousness of his greatness. My generation abbors the idea of a father-figure, and his work is bitterly attacked by artists and critics under forty when it fails to measure up to the outsize scale it has been given. His own contemporaries, on the other hand, have constantly failed to offer any new or useful criticisms of his work, perhaps because his real success seems in some way to justify to them their own comparative failure.
There is in fact, for what you might call family reasons, a refusal by us all in the art game to take Moore on his merits. It would be better if we could judge him as if he were a foreign sculptor in whom we have no personal stake. The truth is that, like that of most artists, the quality of his work varies considerably; at his best he has made some of the greatest twentieth-century sculptures.
Big projects in a small cowshed
When you meet Henry Moore for the first time you get a real surprise. He is quite unlike the culture-hero you have been led to expect. He is utterly without self-conceit or sham: the hardness of his thinking, which one respects in his essays of 1934 and 1937, is apparent when he talks about art in private discussion.
I have been asked to say what it was like working as his assistant. When I was with him there was only a small converted cowshed to work in. Nevertheless he carried out some big projects, such as the carvings on the Time-Life building in Bond Street, the King and Queen and others.
He preferred to work out his ideas alone, and a small room was set aside for this purpose. He worked to a routine, and the proximity of the studio and house enabled him to retain a continuity of thought between his sculpture and his domestic life.
Whie I was there he was fascinated by the lost-wax process of bronze casting, and under his guidance a bronze foundry was built and operated for casting small pieces. This interest was the starting point for new works, for he experimented with the material, pushing its possibilities to the full, dipping the wax into hot water or cutting out the sheets like a tailor.
He taught me about drawing, on which he places great importance, and he gave freely his help and criticism of my earliest sculptures. Much of what I now take for granted about the understanding of volume and space comes, I realise, from him. I owe him a great debt. The doors of a whole world of art which I had not known as a student he opened for me.
The illustrations in Anthony Caro’s article are as follows (captions are provided in the original style):
The “Draped Reclining Figure” above was cast in bronze in 1957. The draped figure reclining below is its creator, Henry Moore. The work is included in the exhibition of his recent sculpture which opened at the Whitechapel Gallery yesterday. Nevile Wallis discusses the exhibition on page 27.

How to cite

Anthony Caro, ‘The Master Sculptor’, in Observer, 27 November 1960, p.21, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/anthony-caro-the-master-sculptor-r1173024, accessed 24 September 2020.