Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Animal Head 1951

Animal Head is one of Henry Moore’s earliest surviving original plaster sculptures from which bronze versions were cast. The sculpture does not represent a specific animal but draws upon Moore’s interest in the shapes of bones and pebbles and what he called the ‘vitality’ of the natural world.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Animal Head
Plaster on a wood base
270 x 216 x 295 mm
Presented by the artist 1978


Animal Head 1951 is a sculpture of an animal’s head made in off-white plaster mounted on a rectangular wooden base spray-painted in satin black. Although it does not represent the head of a specific animal it is loosely reminiscent of a horse’s, cow’s or sheep’s head. The presence of holes that run through the plaster and its off-white surface colour give the impression that the head may represent a skull.
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Animal Head 1951 (side view)
Tate T02271
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Animal Head 1951 (front view)
Tate T02271
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of mouth of Animal Head 1951
Tate T02271
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The head appears to be balanced on a relatively small area at the base of the neck and thus seems to be front-heavy (fig.1). From the neck, the back of the sculpture curves outwards and upwards to the top of the head, which projects forwards horizontally before dipping to a snout. At the front of the snout is a shallow recess that may denote a nostril (fig.2). Below the snout is a deeper hollow with rounded edges denoting the mouth. The inside of the mouth has been coloured with a dark brown pigment to emphasise the sense of internal depth (fig.3). The thick lower jaw or mandible extends back towards the neck in parallel with the base.
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Animal Head 1951 (rear view)
Tate T02271
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Animal Head 1951 (side view)
Tate T02271
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

From the back of the head can be seen two holes of uneven size that run all the way through the plaster (fig.4). While the hole that can be seen on the right side of the head resembles an eye socket (see fig.1), the hole that penetrates the left side does not. Instead, on the left side an eye socket is suggested by another deep rounded recess that is positioned half-way down the length of the head (fig.5). These asymmetrical features reveal that Moore was not concerned with representing a real animal head with anatomical accuracy.
Felix Man
Felix Man
Henry Moore in his Studio
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Before making the full-size plaster Moore would have first made a small plaster maquette. A photograph of Moore in his small maquette studio in the grounds of his home, Hoglands, at Perry Green in Hertfordshire shows Moore working on a small plaster version of the sculpture (fig.6). The jaw-line and the looping holes at the rear of the head are clearly visible in this initial model. Once he was happy with the model he prepared an armature made of wood and wire on which he could build up layers of plaster to create the scaled-up sculpture. In 1960 Moore explained, ‘You need an armature because, with plaster sculpture, you have to build on something or you’d have a great big solid piece of plaster which is unhandleable ... so one makes an armature in wood with, perhaps chicken wire roughly to shape’.1 As layers of plaster were added to the armature and the sculpture became denser, its individual forms and shapes could then be modelled. According to Moore, ‘The advantage of using plaster is that it can be both built up, as in modelling, or cut down, in the way you carve stone or wood’.2 In this way Moore has able to build up the animal head and then carve out his hollows and indentations.
This sculpture is the original plaster that was used to make an edition of eight bronze casts and one artist’s copy. Moore did not cast the bronze versions himself but instead entrusted the job to a professional foundry. At the foundry the technicians used the plaster original to create a hollow mould into which molten bronze could be poured, and from which the nine bronze versions were made.
Henry Moore 'Animal Head' 1951
Henry Moore
Animal Head 1951
Gimpel Fils, London
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The resultant bronze casts (see fig.7) look very different from the plaster original and complicate the idea that the sculpture represents a skull. Not only does the uniformly dark colour of the bronze version refute this interpretation but the material itself also makes certain features, such as the jaw and mouth, appear heavier, more muscular and more powerful than they do in the bone-coloured plaster. Moore later recalled that:
When working in plaster for bronze I need to visualise it as a bronze because on white plaster the light and shade acts quite differently, throwing back a reflected light on itself and making the forms softer, less powerful ... even weightless.
At first I used to have a tremendous shock going from the white plaster model to the finished bronze sculpture ... The main difference is that bronze takes on a density and weight altogether unlike plaster. Plaster has a ghost-like unreality in contrast to the solid strength of the bronze.3
During the 1920s and 1930s Moore was known for his advocacy of direct carving and his rejection of modelling techniques, but by the 1940s he started to find the limitations of carving directly in stone and wood too restrictive. Working in plaster allowed Moore to experiment with forms that would have been impossible to achieve by direct carving, which requires sculptors to be conscious of, and make work in response to, the properties and weaknesses of particular materials. Moore started working in plaster in the early 1950s and as such Animal Head can be identified as one of his earliest sculptures in plaster.
However, when Moore first started working in plaster the sculptures he made were regarded as steps in the casting process and not as works of art in their own right. When the plasters were returned from the foundry they would often be covered in sealants and resins, or cut into pieces having been carved up into manageable sizes for casting. When Moore started working in plaster he often destroyed the original sculptures after all the bronzes in the edition had been cast to ensure that no additional, unauthorised copies could be made. However, due to the large demand for his work to be seen in exhibitions Moore occasionally exhibited plaster originals when bronze versions were unavailable. This plaster original of Animal Head was included in his 1951 solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, probably before the bronze editions were cast.
Over time Moore’s attitude towards his plasters changed, and he began to see them not simply as intermediary stages in the casting process but as unique works of art. In the early 1970s Moore declared, ‘These are not plaster casts; they are plaster originals ... they are actual works that one has done with one’s hands’.4 In 1973 Moore recounted the moment when he started to reconsider the value of his plasters:
A friend who works at the Victoria and Albert Museum came out one day just as we were breaking up some plasters and said, ‘But why do that, because sometimes the original plaster is actually nicer to look at than the final bronze’. He was right because sometimes an idea you’ve had and that you’ve made in the original material or plaster can suit it better than what the final bronze may do ... So, this led to the idea of not destroying the plasters, leaving me with a great many of them that I would not sell but wanted to find proper homes for.5
Since he wanted to avoid casts being made without his permission, Moore did not want to sell the plasters on the open market. He therefore decided to include his plasters in his philanthropic gifts to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto, where he presented 131 sculptures between 1974 and 1986, and the Tate Gallery in 1978. The Henry Moore Gift to the Tate Gallery included thirty-six sculptures, including five works in plaster.
Having decided to give the AGO and the Tate Gallery examples of his original plasters, in the early 1970s Moore’s studio assistants John Farnham, Michael Muller and Malcolm Woodward set about restoring and repairing the damaged plasters and removing remnants of resin sealant that had been applied to the surface of the plasters during the casting process. According to Alan Wilkinson, curator at the AGO, undertaking this work revealed ‘more clearly the extraordinary variety of surface details and textures, each of the original plasters having its own unique surface colouring and tonality’.6 In the case of Animal Head, the plaster is revealed to be not a stark white, but a softer cream colour, highlighted with touches of brown and aquamarine. According to Anita Feldman, co-author of Henry Moore: Plasters (2011), Moore often coloured his plaster ‘with walnut crystals to give the sculptures an organic warmth’, while a pale green wash was used ‘to emulate the bronze dust which often accumulated on them over time in the foundries’.7
Stones on a shelf in Moore's studio at Hoglands
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The donation of his plasters to the Tate Gallery and the AGO marked a significant sea-change in the way that Moore’s plasters were regarded. Not only are they now exhibited and understood as unique works of art in their own right, but according to Feldman, they also reveal ‘a fuller understanding of Moore’s working methods, in particular his use of this medium to transform found objects such as flint and bone’.8 At Hoglands Moore’s plaster maquette studio, which he called his ‘library of natural forms’, was full of found stones, shells, and bones.9 The smooth surface and undulating shape of Animal Head, not to mention the presence of rounded holes and grooves, give the impression that the sculpture has eroded over time, and suggest that Moore intended to give it the appearance of a natural specimen. Indeed the form of Animal Head may be attributed to a large stone that sat on one of the shelves in Moore’s studio (fig.8). The oval stone was riddled with holes and, significantly, featured a deep, rounded groove that resembles the shape of the mouth in Animal Head. In this stone Moore may have seen some zoological traits and explored the possible duality between stone and animal forms in Animal Head. However, whether Moore worked from this particular stone or not, in his assessment of Animal Head the psychologist Erich Neumann related the sculpture to Moore’s interest in geology, stating, ‘this animal skull shows particularly clearly the formative and transformative power of an artist whose creative energy enables him to call forth a whole world of animal life from a piece of stone’.10
Moore’s interest in naturally weathered stones had been sparked in the late 1920s and became firmly established while looking at flint pebbles on the beach during visits to north Norfolk in 1930–1. In 1934 Moore stated that ‘The observation of nature is part of an artist’s life, it enlarges his form-knowledge’.11 For Moore it was ‘form-knowledge’ that made it possible to draw connections between, for example, the holes in weathered stones and the eyes and nostrils of animals. In 1937 Moore articulated his appreciation of holes in his article ‘A Sculptor Speaks’, published in the Listener magazine:
Pebbles show nature’s way of working stone. Some of the pebbles I pick up have holes right through them ... A piece of stone can have a hole through it and not be weakened – if the hole is of a studied size, shape and direction. On the principle of the arch, it can remain just as strong. The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. The hole connects one side to another, making it immediately more three-dimensional. A hole can have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass. Sculpture in air is possible, where the stone contains only the hole, which is the intended and considered form. The mystery of the hole – the mysterious fascination of caves in hillsides and cliffs.12
Having garnered the ‘form-knowledge’ of naturally occurring objects, Moore was able to utilise those shapes imaginatively in his sculptures. For Moore the study of pebbles, rocks or bones was a way of learning not only about natural materials and their forms, but also about how nature’s energies acted upon organic material; inherent to the forms of natural materials are the powerful processes of erosion, weathering and decay that shaped them.
Moore made his first sculpture of an animal head, Small Animal Head (The Henry Moore Foundation), in 1921, and although the subject featured infrequently in his work, it was nonetheless one that he liked to return to, with the last examples being made in the early 1980s. Indeed, as early as 1934 the critic Herbert Read identified animals as one of Moore’s key interests. Although written well before the creation of Animal Head, Read’s observations remain relevant. According to Read, Moore’s animal sculptures from the 1920s were reduced to certain basic shapes or features in an attempt to convey the animal’s inner character.13 Moore’s animals, Read argued, did not aspire to anatomical accuracy but were presented in distilled, unembellished forms that conveyed their inherent life force, or essence. This essence may be understood in relation to Moore’s own notion of vitality as it was articulated in a short essay he published in Unit One. In this statement Moore explained that ‘For me a work must first have a vitality of its own. I do not mean a reflection of the vitality of life, of movement, physical action, frisking, dancing figures and so on, but that a work can have in it a pent-up energy, an intense life of its own, independent of the object it may represent’.14 For Alan Wilkinson, ‘Animal Head is a text book embodiment of Moore’s oft quoted statement on “Vitality and Power of Expression”, in his contribution to Unit One’ cited above.15
Henry Moore 'Animal Studies' c.1950
Henry Moore
Animal Studies c.1950
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Henry Moore 'Animal Heads' c.1950
Henry Moore
Animal Heads c.1950
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive

Because the maquette for Animal Head was made in Moore’s plaster studio, amid his ‘library of natural forms’, there are no preparatory drawings relating specifically to the sculpture. However, in 1950 Moore did make seven pages of related studies of animal heads and fantastical animals. Although the order in which Moore made these drawings is uncertain, it is possible that he began with some naturalistic sketches, such as that of the cow’s head in the lower right of Animal Studies c.1950 (fig.9), and developed these into more abstract creatures, as seen in Animal Heads c.1950 (fig.10).16 These drawings reveal that Moore was aware of the anatomical structure of animals, and was curious about how these living beings might be expressed creatively.
Henry Moore 'Fabulous Animals' c.1950
Henry Moore
Fabulous Animals c.1950
Whereabouts unknown
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Indeed, Moore made scores of drawings of animals, whether domestic or imagined, throughout his career. For example, one of Moore’s drawings from 1950 is captioned ‘Fabulous Animals’ (fig.11). The sketches included on this page vary from distinct, identifiable animals, such as the horses in the lower section of the page, to imagined beasts at the top of the page. Many of Moore’s animals were imaginative amalgamations and distortions of both living and extinct examples; in 1959 Neumann suggested that Animal Head ‘is not just a copy of a particular animal species but seems rather to be the primordial image of a whole group of them’.17 In 2006 the art historian Reinhard Rudolph concurred, suggesting that Animal Head is ‘an abstracted fusion of a human head, bird, fish, reptile and mammal, jaws agape and eye sockets wide open’.18
Rudolph continued that Moore’s interest in fantastical or grotesque animals may be traced to the artist’s interest in ancient American art in the British Museum, and the studies he undertook there in the 1920s and 1930s. Moore’s knowledge of the arts of ancient Mexico originated from his reading of the art critic Roger Fry’s Vision and Design (1920) as a student at Leeds School of Art in 1920. Fry had included a chapter on ancient American arts in his book, and Moore later recalled that ‘Fry opened the way to other books and to the realisation of the British Museum. That was the beginning really’.19 The British Museum had a particularly large collection of ancient Mexican sculpture having acquired its first piece in the 1820s. In 1947 Moore recalled ‘One room after another in the British Museum took my enthusiasm ... And after the first excitement it was the art of ancient Mexico that spoke to me most’.20 Although she does not cite her source, art historian Barbara Braun claims that ‘Moore himself once attributed the piercing of his sculptures of the late 1930s to the Mexican stimulus, citing as inspiration a giant perforated parrot head ... from Xochicalco, in which positive and negative spaces have equal value’.21 This perforated head of a bird may have resonated with Moore and perhaps demonstrated to him how living natural forms could be abstracted to express a sense of ‘vitality’ while retaining a resemblance to their real appearance.
Three years before Moore’s death, the art historian W.J. Strachan published his book Henry Moore: Animals in which he suggested that ‘the “animal heads” ... compose some of Moore’s most original and at the same time disquieting creations’.22 He went on to describe Animal Head as a ‘grinning skull-like form’ that is ‘hauntingly assertive’.23 Wilkinson agreed that the sweeping forms and tunnels of Animal Head suggest ‘a skull rather than a living head ... Two holes, like massive bullet wounds, run diagonally through the side of the head and out the back. This is as haunting and disturbing an image of the animal world as Picasso’s bronze and copper Deaths Head 1943 is of the human’.24 Moore was perhaps able to instill Animal Head with ‘haunting’ disquiet because the subject of the sculpture was zoological rather than human. He later recounted that ‘sometimes I feel freer when working on an animal idea because I can invent an imaginary animal. I would find it less natural to try and alter a human’.25
After the bronze edition of Animal Head had been cast the plaster original was returned to Moore and remained in his possession. The plaster was kept and displayed in his maquette studio alongside other plaster and terracotta maquettes, and among his collection of stones, bones and other natural forms.
Animal Head was presented by Henry Moore to the Tate Gallery in 1978 as part of the Henry Moore Gift. The Gift comprised thirty-six sculptures in bronze, marble and plaster and was exhibited in its entirety alongside Tate’s existing collection of Moore’s work in an exhibition celebrating the artist’s eightieth birthday, which opened in June 1978. A press release was duly prepared announcing that ‘The group [of sculptures] is the most substantial gift of works ever given to the Tate by an artist during his lifetime’.26 Animal Head was included in the exhibition and displayed in gallery twenty-six alongside Upright Internal/External Form 1952 (Tate T02272). The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.27 At the close of the exhibition in late August 1978 the Director of Tate Norman Reid reflected in a letter to Moore’s daughter Mary Danowski that although he was sad to see the exhibition come to an end ‘we have the consolation of the splendid group of sculptures which Henry has presented to the nation’.28

Alice Correia
February 2013


Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, p.113, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.226.
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.300.
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration and Life as an Artist, London 1986, p.159.
Henry Moore cited in Henry J. Seldis, Henry Moore in America, New York 1973, p.222.
Ibid., pp.222–3.
Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto 1987, p.18.
Anita Feldman, ‘Moore: The Plasters’, in Anita Feldman and Malcolm Woodward, Henry Moore: Plasters, London 2011, pp.12, 19.
Ibid., p.11.
Ibid., p.17.
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.120.
Henry Moore, ‘Statement for Unit One’, in Herbert Read (ed.), Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, London 1934, pp.29–30, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.192.
Henry Moore, ‘A Sculptor Speaks’, Listener, 18 August 1937, pp.338–40, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.195.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: Sculptor, London 1934, p.13.
Moore 1934, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.192.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Animal Head, Lot 62’, British & Irish Art Auction: Sale 7595, sales catalogue, Christie’s, London 2008, http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/sculptures-statues-figures/henry-moore-om-ch-animal-head-5088887-details.aspx?pos=3&intObjectID=5088887&sid=&page=5, accessed 5 February 2013.
This developmental sequence is based on the way in which these drawings are presented in the artist’s catalogue raisionné, where Animal Studies c.1950 is listed before Animal Heads c.1950. See Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 4: Complete Drawings 1950–76, London 2003, p.20.
Neumann 1959, p.120.
Reinhard Rudolph, ‘Animal Head, 1951’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works From the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.231.
Henry Moore cited in James Johnson Sweeny, ‘Henry Moore’, Partisan Review, March–April 1947, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.44.
Ibid., p.45.
Barbara Braun, Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World: Ancient American Sources of Modern Art, New York 2000, p.122.
W.J. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London 1983, p.127.
Ibid., p.127.
Wilkinson 2008, accessed 5 February 2013.
Rudolph 2006, p.232.
See ‘Note on the Henry Moore Gift’, 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
These figures are based on those listed in a memo in the records for the exhibition. See Tate Public Records TG 92/344/2.
Norman Reid, letter to Mary Danowski, 31 August 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Animal Head 1951 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, February 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-om-ch-animal-head-r1172013, accessed 27 May 2024.