Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

E.L.T. Mesens, ‘Letter to the New Statesman’

The London Bulletin, June 1940, pp.20–21.

The letter which we reproduce hereunder was addressed to the editor of “The New Statesman and Nation”. Its receipt was acknowledged but it was never published.
26th February 1940
The Editor,
“The New Statesman and Nation,”
10 Great Turnstile,
High Holborn, London, W.C.1.
Dear Sir,
Though I do not always agree with the ideas of your collaborators, I have often noticed how sincerely your paper is devoted to a genuine intellectual liberalism and to social and economic points of view impartially directed towards the interests of all and not of those classes who wish, at all costs, to preserve their unique privileges. But I have frequently observed that you art criticisms have not the same orientation as your articles devoted to politics and to international, colonial or economic questions.
Indeed you contributor, Mr. Raymond Mortimer, defends in his articles a point of view that is not merely conservative but definitely reactionary. His wavering talent as a critic is ever ready to serve an increasingly restricted coterie, for whom are reserved eulogies concerning young geniuses unheard of six months afterwards.
But now when Henry Moore exhibits, Mr. Mortimer exerts himself to find in his repertoire all that is most sweetly treacherous and most hypocritically hostile. This phrase, for instance, is particularly well designed to impress simple souls : “Some of his large carvings in the past have seemed to me positively shocking – ferocious objects such as might serve a despot to cow a conquered population, symbols fit for a Hitler or a Stalin”. One might think that this phrase were written by Camille Mauclair! It is as like as two lice to those phrases which were applied to the cubist works of Picasso and Braque by the blindest critics of that time.
In this perfidious style, with a great deal of foolishness and misunderstanding, he goes on to say : “The large Reclining Figure in his new exhibition reminds one of an object trouvĂ©, one of those dead tree-trunks to which natural forces have given an accidental expressiveness. (Mr. Paul Nash may here have afforded a suggestion.) But, in fact, it is a highly intellectual edifice, an elaborate system of subtle curves that demands long consideration”. But the big wooden sculpture in question has nothing, absolutely nothing in common with a “found object” as the surrealists have defined it. Further, it is not because Paul Nash, with full justification, has chosen to classify branches of dead trees as “found objects”, or because it pleases him to make these objects take on the role of creatures in his paintings of atmosphere and dream, that it should be implied that this sculpture by Henry Moore – also carved, as it happens, in a piece of wood – is derivative from either the work or the ideas of Paul Nash. In short, the Reclining Figure has, on the one hand, nothing accidental, on the other, nothing intellectual. I do not know any tree which has the form of this sculpture and I do not see to what logical proposition it can be reduced.
Is it because, in the past, sculptors have consecrated their talent to representing human beings or animals and because art students are still obsessed by this past ; because the bones of living models have always been covered by muscles and even by skin, that Henry Moore, who portrays neither muscles nor bone, so profoundly shocks Mr. Mortimer ? “Where most sculptors have been fascinated by muscle, Mr. Moore seems obsessed with bones.” What is the significance of this phrase? Muscle – life, bone – death? That is probably why Mr. Mortimer admires so much the paintings in which there are muscles but no bones! But I will not insist. . . .
At the beginning of the article it is also stated : “He is an eclectic, who has taken hints from a variety of sources, from Picasso conspicuously, from the Surrealists, from the Constructivists, from the art of savage people and from the Renaissance.” It is precisely what has been said of Picasso Himself! One could not then do greater honour to Henry Moore than to say that even if he does absorb all these different products, his works remain genuinely his own. England has not many contemporary artists capable of comparison with the great of other European countries. Is it because Henry Moore surpasses the mediocrity of certain home-made celebrities that Mr. Mortimer does not understand him? Probably. So much the worse for Mr. Mortimer and his readers. All the same, such articles have not the power to interrupt the progress of so well-balanced and gifted a personality.
Henry Moore is not only a technician of the first order, he is an authentic, poetic and powerful creator.
Yours faithfully,
The illustrations in E.L.T. Mesens’s letter are as follows (captions are provided in the original style):
HENRY MOORE Group of sketches for sculpture (1939)
HENRY MOORE Three Points (lead) 1940}

How to cite

E.L.T. Mesens, ‘Letter to the New Statesman’, in The London Bulletin, June 1940, pp.20–21, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/elt-mesens-letter-to-the-new-statesman-r1173020, accessed 24 May 2024.