Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Bird 1959, cast 1960

Animals, and in particular birds, presented subjects that Moore returned to throughout his career. While this bronze sculpture from 1959 may not represent a particular species of bird, it demonstrates how Moore sought to make a work that conveyed the ‘vitality’ or inner life force of living creatures.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
1959, cast 1960
Bronze on a Hoptonwood limestone base
121 x 375 x 130 mm
Presented by the artist 1978
Artist’s copy aside from an edition of 12


Henry Moore’s Bird 1959 does not depict a particular species of bird but displays certain features that make it recognisable as such. These include a long bill with a smooth and relatively flat upper surface, a short rounded body, and a long feathered tail. The bill and the tail project beyond the front and rear edges of the rectangular Hoptonwood limestone base on which the sculpture sits. From the side the bird’s body can be seen to extend on a diagonal axis, with the bill tilting upwards, the body curving downwards, and the tail projecting horizontally backwards. Consequently the sculpture appears carefully weighted, with the bill and tail counterbalancing each other.
Detail of bill of Bird 1959, cast 1960
Tate T02282
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of wing and tail of Bird 1959, cast 1960
Tate T02282
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The bill comprises a wide upper mandible with a flat upper surface and a thinner lower mandible containing a large hole at its far end. This hole appears to delineate the shape of a pelican’s dip netting bill – a large fold of skin connected to a pelican’s lower mandible that acts rather like a net (fig.1). On the right side of the bird the jawline curves smoothly into the wing, underneath which deep recesses evoke the shapes of a skeletal structure. The peaked curve connecting the upper mandible and the wing complicates any sense of anatomical legibility in that the body appears to occupy the position of a head. Similarly, from certain angles the crests of the wings may also be understood to represent eyes. Both wings extend backwards and form a long tail with scalloped edges suggestive of feathers (fig.2). Moore paid particular attention to the surfaces of the wings and tail, marking them with a series of cross-hatched lines to evoke a feathery texture.

From plaster to bronze

Henry Moore 'Bird' 1959
Henry Moore
Bird 1959
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Michael Phipps, Henry Moore Foundation Archive
It is likely that Moore made the maquette for Bird in the maquette studio on the grounds of his home, Hoglands, at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. By 1959, when Bird was created, Moore had moved away from making preparatory drawings for his sculptures and had started making small three-dimensional models in clay, plaster and other malleable materials. According to James Copper, Sculpture Conservator at The Henry Moore Foundation, Moore may have created Bird from found sections of plaster, such as a piece of exterior casing used to hold a sculpture during the casting process, which closely resembles the bird’s bill.1 To create the rest of the sculpture Moore would have made an armature out of wood or chicken wire, over which successive layers of plaster were built up. Once the full-size plaster version of Bird was near completion Moore would finish the detailing of the surface (fig.3).
When the plaster version was complete it was sent to the Art Bronze Foundry in London to be cast in bronze. At the foundry a mould was made of the plaster sculpture into which molten bronze was poured. Bird was cast in an edition of twelve plus one artist’s copy. Records at the Henry Moore Foundation indicate that the work belonging to Tate is the artist’s copy and was cast in April 1960.2
After it had been cast at the foundry the bronze sculpture was returned to Moore so that he could inspect the casting and make decisions about its patination. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the bronze surface. Bird has a fairly consistent light brown base patina, over which a light green patina was applied and polished back to reveal the underlying brown colour on the sculpture’s high points.

Origins and development

In 1968 Moore explained the origins of Bird to the photographer John Hedgecoe:
ten years ago I made a teracotta bird table. A big, black crow (I particularly like crows) used to come and eat from this table. I think it came because it was old and sick and it was the only way it could get its food. It had something wrong with its beak and it stood almost horizontally. That bird is why I did this sculpture.3
Henry Moore 'Bird' 1927
Henry Moore
Bird 1927
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Birds and other animal forms appear consistently, if infrequently, in Moore’s sculptures and drawings. For W.J. Strachan, author of the book Henry Moore: Animals (1983), the terracotta Bird Table in the garden at Hoglands testified to Moore’s ornithological interests, justifying his claim that ‘Moore is fascinated by both bird structure and bird behaviour’.4 Birds appear in Moore’s sketchbooks as early as 1921–2 and his first sculpture of a bird dates from 1927 (fig.4). Strachan suggested that the forms of these early works may have been influenced by the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957), whose own bird sculptures were often made of curvaceous vertical shafts of polished bronze or brass (see, for example, Maiastra 1911, Tate T01751). Moore observed that ‘people will accept alterations and distortions in animals quite happily, whereas the same degree of distortion in the human figure would upset them’.5 Both the 1927 and 1959 sculptures loosely resemble their subject, but by paring down their bodies to essential forms Moore may have been seeking to convey a generalised sense of bird-like ‘vitality’. This was a term used by the critic Herbert Read who in 1934 argued that in his animal sculptures from the 1920s Moore reduced the subject to basic shapes or features ‘which best denote its vitality’.6 The concept was also used by Moore himself in a 1933 statement for the publication Unit One, in which he 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’.7 This idea that ‘vitality’ conveys the essential life force of a creature more convincingly than naturalistic representation may account for the arrangement of forms in Bird.
Haida rattle from British Columbia, Canada, unknown date
British Museum, London
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Strachan proposed that Moore’s 1959 Bird is ‘the strangest and the most imaginative of his birds’.8 Seeking to account for the formal origins of the sculpture, Strachan continued, ‘The sweeping form of Bird 1959 is equally effective seen from every angle, and the sculptor agreed that the artifact Wooden Rattle [fig.5], a piece of native art from British Columbia, carved in the form of a raven and coincidentally almost the same size as Moore’s crow, made an interesting parallel’.9 Although there is no evidence to suggest that Moore had seen this rattle when he created Bird, he was very familiar with the collections of the British Museum, where it is held. Indeed, Strachan cited Moore’s own admission that ‘nine-tenths of my knowledge and understanding has come from the British Museum’.10

The Henry Moore Gift

Henry Moore presented Bird 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’.11 Bird was included in the birthday exhibition and was displayed in gallery nineteen. The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.12 At the close of the exhibition in late August 1978 the Director of Tate Norman Reid reflected in a letter to Moore’s daughter 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’.13
Bird was cast in an edition of twelve plus one artist’s copy. Other casts of the sculpture can be found in the Gwendolyn Weiner Collection, on permanent loan to the Palm Spring Desert Museum, and the Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena. The remainder are believed to be held in private collections. The full-size plaster is held in the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation.

Alice Correia
April 2013


James Copper, in conversation with the author, July 2013.
Henry Moore sales log book, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.405.
W.J. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London 1983, p.33.
Henry Moore cited in ibid., p.9.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: Sculptor, London 1934, p.13.
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 Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.192.
Strachan 1983, p.35.
Ibid., p.35.
Henry Moore cited in ibid., p.34.
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, ‘Bird 1959, cast 1960 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, April 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-bird-r1151464, accessed 27 May 2024.