Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Headless Animal 1960, cast 1964

When Moore made this small sculpture of a four-legged animal he decided that it ‘would look better’ without a head. The combination of this absent head and unseemly growths, which protrude from the animal’s body, has led critics to describe the sculpture as ‘fantastic’ but also ‘disturbing’.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Headless Animal
1960, cast 1964
Bronze
158 x 224 x 94 mm
Presented by the artist 1978
In an edition of 6 plus 1 artist’s copy
T02283

Entry

Henry Moore 'Headless Animal' 1960, cast 1964
Fig.1
Henry Moore
Headless Animal 1960, cast 1964
Tate T02283
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Headless Animal represents a four-legged creature whose head has been severed from its body with a slightly ragged cut through the neck (fig.1). The effect is disquieting, not least because the animal remains standing despite its apparent mutilation. Furthermore, while the stump-like remainder distinctly conveys the impression that a head once existed, the impossibility of identifying the body as belonging to any known species, whether wild or domestic, prompts speculation as to what kind of head this animal might once have possessed. The significance of its absence was only partially explained by comments Moore made to Tate curator Richard Calvocoressi in 1980: ‘the head presented no problem and he thought the sculpture would look better without one’.1
Henry Moore
Fig.2
Henry Moore
Headless Animal 1960, cast 1964 (view from rear)
Tate T02283
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
One result of the creature’s decapitation is that attention is thrown back onto the qualities of the body that remain. Certainly some aspects of the form evoke the denizens of pasture and barn yard. Seen from the rear, the creature’s ungainly stance, with rear legs splayed and front legs close together, suggests the unsteadiness of a calf, and both the tapering legs and the short tail, which wraps around the haunches to the right, enhance the illusion (fig.2). By contrast, the left side of the figure belies this naturalistic impression; it is here that the form is most distorted by odd and ungainly protrusions. These elements may derive from Moore’s use of found materials, which he often incorporated into his plaster models, and do not seem to correspond to anatomical features appropriate to this small creature. Instead they seem alien to it, like protrusions or growths.
These alienating effects have inevitably coloured critical accounts of the sculpture. For example, the critic and curator David Sylvester, who categorised the formal features of Moore’s work in the catalogue to his retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1968, placed Headless Animal under the rubric ‘Hard and Soft’, which for Sylvester meant it possessed:
violent contrasts of surface tension, with exceedingly taut, bone-hard passages moving into soft, resilient, fleshy passages, often very abruptly. This was at about the time when [Moore] started to work with pebbles that have surfaces partly smooth and partly rough and sudden alterations between convexes and concaves, rather than sea-worn pebbles with smooth surfaces and smooth curves.2
For Sylvester, the contrast between hard and soft was a ‘key characteristic of virtually all the clearly figurative bronzes’ the artist made from the mid-1950s onwards. Tellingly, his catalogue featured a full-page photograph of Headless Animal to illustrate the point.
For W.J. Strachan, a literary critic and translator whom Moore numbered among his friends, Headless Animal was to be seen as an example of the artist’s interest in ‘fantastic and fabulous’ creatures, one of the seven groups into which Strachan divided Moore’s animal works. Strachan’s 1983 study, Henry Moore: Animals, which remains the only book-length examination of the artist’s use of animal forms, has the added distinction of having been produced at the artist’s invitation and with his collaboration. There is, however, no way of knowing whether Strachan’s view of Headless Animal was his alone, or was shared by Moore. Strachan saw the sculpture as ‘invented and disturbing’, ‘a reminder of Moore’s persistent duality’, and even more suggestively, as the body from which the artist’s several severed animal heads – such as Animal Head 1951 (Tate T02271) or Animal Head 1956 (Tate T02277) – might have come.3 Both these works feature the same disquieting mix of the naturalistic and the monstrous, or the familiar and the exotic, or even the tragic and the comic. Moore frequently returned to these basic dualities to animate his small-scale and sketch-based sculptural work.
Headless Animal was cast at R. Fiorini & J. Carney. Between 1956 and 1983 this was the name borne by a firm otherwise known as Fiorini Art Bronze Founders (1951–6), and Fiorini Ltd (from 1984). From 1951 through 1985 Moore worked frequently with this foundry to produce bronzes in all sizes. According to records held at the Henry Moore Foundation Headless Animal was fabricated in 1964, when the foundry was located at 7 Peterborough Road, London, SW6 3BL.
Headless Animal was presented by Moore to the Tate Gallery in 1978 as part of the Henry Moore Gift, which comprised thirty-six sculptures, in bronze, marble and plaster.

Anne Wagner
June 2011

Notes

1
Richard Calvocoressi, ‘T.2283 Headless Animal 1960’, The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, p.127.
2
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, p.127.
3
W.J. Strachan, Henry Moore: Animals, London 1983, p.134.

How to cite

Anne Wagner, ‘Headless Animal 1960, cast 1964 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, June 2011, 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-headless-animal-r1151460, accessed 22 January 2021.