Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore Letter to Serge Chermayeff 19 December 1941

In 1938 the Russian émigré architect Serge Chermayeff commissioned Moore to create a sculpture for the grounds of Bentley Wood, his house in Halland, Sussex. The resulting artwork was Recumbent Figure 1938 (Tate N05387) in Green Horton stone. Recumbent Figure did not remain at Bentley Wood for long. In early 1939 Chermayeff was declared bankrupt. Although he had agreed a purchase price of £300 for the sculpture, he had only paid a £50 deposit and he proposed that the work be returned to Moore to sell to another client. Moore willingly took possession of the sculpture again and refunded the deposit.
Bentley Wood was sold and in 1940 Chermayeff and his family emigrated to the United States. In November 1941 Chermayeff wrote to Moore offering to act as a broker in the sale of the sculpture to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Here Moore’s replies to Chermayeff's letter, explaining that the piece was now owned by the Tate Gallery.

Transcript

[Handwritten:]
Copy.
Dec. 19th 1941.                              Hoglands
                                             Perry Green
                                             Much Hadham
                                             Herts
My dear Serge,
 I got your letter yesterday and was very pleased to get it because it clears up the mix-up there seems to have been about the Reclining Figure. The day previous to me getting your letter John Rothenstein had rung me up very concerned over a letter he’d just got from Alfred Barr saying the Museum of Modern Art wanted to buy the figure and making enquiries about its ownership. He was of course very surprised and couldn’t understand Alfred Barr’s letter as the figure has belonged to the Tate Gallery now for over two years, and in fact it was the Tate who lent the figure to go to the British Pavilion in the World’s Fair – (and it would by now have been in the Sculpture Gallery at the Tate if the war hadn’t come along – it was because of the difficulties of transport in wartime it was lent to the Museum of Modern Art. So I can’t understand how it’s been labelled by The Museum of Modern Art with your ownership.
 I told you I feel sure at the time that Bentley was being disintegrated and the figure again became mine and I repaid your deposit on her, that the Contemporary Arts Society was buying her from me and presented her to the Tate – but perhaps in all your upset around then and the war coming on and everything, it’s very likely you don’t remember me telling you. I saw John Rothenstein yesterday at the Trustees’ meeting (I was made a Trustee at the Tate Gallery a few months ago!) and he was pleased [end of p.1] to see your letter, although he’d already sent an airmail letter to Barr to say that of course the figure is the property of the Tate Gallery.
 We’re both pleased to hear that the chances are you’ve got the post at Brooklyn College. That’ll be grand. I did get your previous letters, through Jim R., and I wrote as you asked to Brooklyn College backing up your application.
 If and when you and Barbara and family are fixed in New York write and let us know your permanent address.
 All best wishes
  Henry

How to cite

Henry Moore, Letter to Serge Chermayeff, 19 December 1941, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-letter-to-serge-chermayeff-r1145365, accessed 18 September 2021.