Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown

In the early 1950s Henry Moore returned to the subject of the helmet head, which had preoccupied him prior to the Second World War. The militaristic connotations of this theme are exemplified by Helmet Head and Shoulders, which resembles a section of armoury. In addition to the war, sources for this work may be found in Moore’s interest in ancient Greek mythology and metalwork.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Helmet Head and Shoulders
1952, cast date unknown
190 x 205 x 150 mm
Presented by the artist 1978
In an edition of 10 plus 2 artist’s copies


Helmet Head and Shoulders is a hollow sculpture consisting of a single, thin piece of curvaceous bronze that delineates the shape of a human head and shoulders. The combination of a smoothed, highly polished exterior surface and a hollow interior is more suggestive of a suit of armour than a human figure, while the toothed helmet conveys a sense of menace and aggression.
Detail of head of Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The highest point of the sculpture has been modelled into a hollow dome, the surface of which features two small circular holes near the front, in between which a thin straight ridge runs down from the apex of the dome to the lip of the base (fig.1). At the front of the sculpture, directly below this lip, are two differently sized but equally prominent triangular protrusions that point down sharply towards the base. A circular hole marks the central point at which the inner edges of these two triangles meet, behind which the base of the dome curves down and into an almost tubular vertical shaft, reminiscent of a neck. The front half of this shaft is open-ended, revealing it and the dome above to be hollow.
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown (rear view)
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown (front view)
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The tubular form curves outwards from the neck to form what appear to be gently rounded, albeit asymmetrical shoulders. When seen from the rear, the back of the sculpture forms an arch so that the left flank rests on the base at a single point (fig.2). From this angle a set of three arced striations can also be seen radiating from the rounded lower edge of the dome to around the point where the neck begins to curve outwards. Similar contour lines feature around the rounded left shoulder, although here the striations are deeper and thus more prominent. The edge of the left shoulder extends downwards to the base before curling upwards and across the front, perhaps echoing the position and shape of a breastplate (fig.3). Here it is cut off by a straight vertical edge, continued downwards from the open neck. In contrast, the other edge of the open neck leads down the top edge of the right shoulder, curling smoothly down and around towards the base, culminating in a point near the centre. As a result the cavity on this side of the sculpture is left exposed with no comparable breastplate closing it off.
Detail of incised lines on right flank of Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown (front view)
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown (side view)
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

While the left shoulder and breastplate are marked by striations that radiate downwards at increasing intervals from the neck, only the upper edge of the right flank features comparable but smaller incised lines (fig.4). On this side the open cavity exposes the inner surface of the sculpture, which is revealed to be rougher and duller than the smooth and polished exterior. This surface is also slightly pitted and bears a multitude of evenly-spaced scratches produced by a rotary wire brush. The sculpture rests on the base at the tip of the left flank and at two points on the right, at the back and at the front, separated by a shallow arch (fig.5).

Making the sculpture

Henry Moore 'Bust: Drawing for Sculpture' c.1950
Henry Moore
Bust: Drawing for Sculpture c.1950
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Michel Muller, Henry Moore Foundation Archive
By the time Moore started work on Helmet Head and Shoulders he had already created a number of ‘Helmet Head’ sculptures, including Helmet Head No.1 1950 (Tate T00388). The sketches and drawings he made between 1950 and 1951 reveal that he was conducting extensive investigations into the representation of the human head, but a drawing annotated ‘Bust – drawing for sculpture’ indicates that he was also interested in exploring the sculptural potential of the portrait bust (fig.6).1
Henry Moore 'Series of Helmet Heads' c.1950–1
Henry Moore
Series of Helmet Heads c.1950–1
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The formal origins of Helmet Head and Shoulders can be traced to a page of drawings made by Moore in c.1950–1 (fig.7). It contains five small sketches in which Moore developed the image of a female head and torso, combining his ideas for open bodily structures with his interest in helmets and armour. The sketch in the lower left corner of the page is recognisable as Helmet Head and Shoulders and is annotated with the symbol “–x–”, which Moore used to indicate that he wanted to recreate the drawing in three dimensions.
Moore annotated his initial sketches with the phrases ‘Armour Heads; Female Armour; Woman in Armour; Wallace Collection’. Discussing his Helmet Head series in 1980 Moore recalled that ‘the idea of one form inside another form may owe some of its incipient beginnings to my interest at one stage when I discovered armour. I spent many hours in the Wallace Collection, in London, looking at armour’.2 When he visited the Wallace Collection as a student in the 1920s Moore would have had access to one of the largest collections of armoury in Britain, including items dating back to the fourteenth century. Moore’s study of armoury not only prompted him to depict armoured structures but also to reinterpret the representation of the body. According to the critic John Russell this was particularly evident in the ‘woman in armour’ drawing, where ‘it is hard to tell where the breastplate ends and the naked human breast takes over’.3
In order to transform his pencil design into a bronze sculpture Moore first needed to create a three-dimensional model. He did this using plasticine, a malleable material which Moore preferred to clay because it did not dry out and harden as quickly. Fragments survive of the original plasticine model for Helmet Head and Shoulders, which are held in the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation (fig.8).
Fragments of plasticine model of Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Alice Correia
Detail of interior of Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Although the smooth exterior of Tate’s sculpture does not show any trace of Moore’s modelling techniques, the interior of the helmet does reveal the texture of the plasticine (fig.9). Once Moore was satisfied with the surface finish of the sculpture and was sure that he wanted to proceed with the casting process, it would have been sent to a professional foundry to be cast in bronze. Although Helmet Head and Shoulders is not stamped with a foundry mark, records held at the Henry Moore Foundation note that the sculpture was cast at the Art Bronze Foundry in London, which Moore had previously employed to cast his maquettes for Madonna and Child in 1943 (see Tate N05600). It is likely that Moore first came into contact with the foundry when he was Head of the Sculpture Department at Chelsea College of Art in the 1930s because it was located close to the college and was used regularly by staff and students.
The bronze sculpture was most likely created using the lost wax casting technique, which would have first involved the manufacture of a mould of the original model, into which molten wax would be poured and left to harden to create an exact replica of the original plasticine sculpture. This wax replica would then be encased in a hard refractory material, placed in a kiln and heated. Channels within the casing would allow the melted wax to drain away leaving an empty cavity which could then be filled with molten bronze. In order to achieve an even and flawless cast all of the molten bronze had to be poured in one go. Once the bronze had cooled and hardened, the casing was removed to reveal the finished sculpture.4
After casting at the foundry Helmet Head and Shoulders was probably returned to Moore so that he could inspect its quality and make decisions about the patination. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the pre-heated bronze surface. In 1963 Moore asserted, ‘I always patinate bronze myself’, explaining that since he had designed the sculpture it was unlikely that anyone else would be able to create the exact colour he wanted.5 He went on to explain that ‘one tries with any patina to help the form of a sculpture rather than to obscure it’, and compared a patina with a person’s complexion, suggesting that if a girl ‘has a bad complexion ... you don’t notice how beautiful she may be’.6
Detail of patina on Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown
Tate T02273
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Tate’s version of Helmet Head and Shoulders has been patinated a very dark brown, bordering on black (fig.10). The dark patina seen on the external surface has been rubbed back to reveal the natural golden colour of the metal and has a slightly patchy or worn appearance, which may be have been achieved by applying a concentrated patination solution to the bronze while it was heated with a blowtorch. In contrast, the interior surface has a consistently dark patina.
Helmet Head and Shoulders was produced in an edition of ten plus two artist’s casts. It is numbered 304 in the second volume of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, published in 1955.7 Other examples of this sculpture were initially sold to two of Moore’s long-standing supporters: Kenneth Clark, former Director of the National Gallery, London, and Reverend Walter Hussey of St Matthew’s Church in Northampton, who had commissioned Moore’s Madonna and Child for the church in 1942. Hussey’s cast is now held in the collection of Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Other examples are held in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Henry Moore Family Collection. The remaining casts are believed to be held in private collections.

Sources and development

In a conversation with Tate researcher Richard Calvocoressi on 12 December 1980, ‘Moore said that the conjunction of sharp points with the helmet form was intended to express the idea of aggression and war, although in this sculpture the shoulders introduce a protective element’.8 This protective dimension is also a feature of a contemporaneous work, Upright Internal/External Form 1952–3 (Tate T02272), which itself developed from Moore’s pre-war investigations into the protective relationship between interior and exterior forms, and the notion of the body as a protective shell.
In 1939 Moore made a number of drawings depicting the motif of the ‘helmet head’. One of these, Drawing for Metal Sculpture: Two Heads 1939 (fig.11), was singled out by the art historian Andrew Causey for revealing Moore’s mindset when he set out to explore the relationship between enveloped and enveloping forms. For Causey, ‘Moore’s hatching and shading create dark corners and uncomfortable spaces’ that convey the widespread anxiety regarding the impending Second World War.9 In 1967 Moore explained that in developing his helmet head series he was interested in ‘the mystery of semiobscurity where one can only half distinguish something. In the helmet you do not quite know what is inside’.10
Henry Moore 'Drawing for Metal Sculpture: Two Heads' 1939
Henry Moore
Drawing for Metal Sculpture: Two Heads 1939
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'The Helmet' 1939–40
Henry Moore
The Helmet 1939–40
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Moore’s first three-dimensional work to take the form of a helmet and combine interior and exterior forms was a lead sculpture titled The Helmet 1939–40 (fig.12). For this work Moore enclosed a form made up of arches and ellipses, which may bear analogy to a standing figure, within a domed shelter. Although the art historian Julian Stallabrass has argued that Moore’s helmet head sculptures ‘have a very definite relation to the war’, this work can also be viewed in light of Moore’s interest in the mother and child motif.11 In 1967 Moore acknowledged that this compositional arrangement related to ‘the Mother and Child where the other form, the mother, is protecting the inner form, the child’.12 Furthermore, the German psychologist Erich Neumann argued in 1959 that in the helmet head sculptures ‘the head itself becomes the sheltering uterus’.13
Henry Moore 'Helmet Head No.1' 1950, cast 1960
Henry Moore
Helmet Head No.1 1950, cast 1960
Tate T00388
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Openwork Head and Shoulders' 1950
Henry Moore
Openwork Head and Shoulders 1950
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive

Although a lack of material resources halted Moore’s sculptural practice during the Second World War, in 1950 he returned once again to the helmet head motif with Helmet Head No.1 1950 (fig.13). However, according to Neumann, when Moore returned to the theme after the war he dispensed with the mother and child symbolism of his pre-war sculpture. Instead, Neumann argued, ‘the motif of the diving helmet, the crash helmet, and the gas mask, all of which convert the human face into something strange and inhuman, has here been wrought into a new and sinister form of death’s-head’.14 Neumann regarded the helmet heads of 1950 as figures from a mechanistic world, in strong contrast to Moore’s figurative sculptures based on organic forms. He suggested that they have a parallel in the ‘Openwork Heads’ of the same year, although in these sculptures a lattice-work shell encloses the interior void (see fig.14). For Neumann, Moore’s ‘Openwork Heads’ presented the head:
only as a mask, a hollow shell derived from the outer layer of skin and muscle. These heads have been, so to speak, peeled off the bone, the density and solidity of the head’s structure are broken down, and all that remains is the outline of the form, with nothing inside save the air filtering in through the openwork.15
Neumann concluded that Moore’s experimentation with latticed, open structures ‘has resulted in a representation of the “nihilistic” man of today, obsessed with the Void, le néant, nothingness’.16
Henry Moore 'Six Seated Figures Wrapped in Blankets' 1940–1
Henry Moore
Six Seated Figures Wrapped in Blankets 1940–1
The British Museum, London
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The striations and incisions on the surface of Helmet Head and Shoulders provide additional evidence to consider the sculpture in relation to Moore’s wartime works. The parallel ridges that wrap around the left flank of the sculpture are reminiscent of the way in which Moore depicted figures swathed in blankets in his Shelter Drawings of 1940–1. In works such as Six Seated Figures Wrapped in Blankets (fig.15) the folds of the blanket are suggested by repeated contours that map the body beneath. Similarly, the incisions on the rounded lip of the sculpture’s right arm recall the open cylinders composed of curved, parallel lines that stand for limbs in the shelter drawings.
Henry Moore 'Ideas for Sculpture and Artist's Notes' 1937
Henry Moore
Ideas for Sculpture and Artist's Notes 1937
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Sources originating from contexts other than the Second World War and its aftermath may also account for Moore’s interest in the function and structure of armour. For instance, in 1937 Moore made sketches of two ancient Greek helmet-like artefacts (fig.16) from reproductions printed in the critic Christian Zervos’s publication L’art en Grèce des temps préhistorique au début du XVIIIe siècle (1934). Although the intended function of these objects is unclear, the curator Alan Wilkinson has argued that ‘their shape may well have led to Moore’s drawings for helmet heads of 1939’, going on to propose that ‘the drawings of the Greek works are therefore among the few copies which were to have a direct influence on Moore’s sculpture’.17 Significantly, Moore later came to see these objects for himself when he visited the National Museum in Athens during his first and only visit to Greece in February 1951. Moore had travelled to Athens in order to attend the opening of his solo exhibition at the Zappeion Gallery, but he also visited the country’s museums and ancient sites, including the National Museum, which housed an expansive selection of helmets and armoury. Following the trip Moore completed a series of works demonstrating the cumulative influence of the art and artefacts he had seen. Several subjects which Moore turned to during the 1950s, including draped reclining women and warriors with shields, are variants of motifs found throughout ancient Greek art, prompting the art historian Roger Cardinal to describe Moore’s output during this time as ‘a sequence of works of a decidedly Greek tinge’.18
Horse and rider ('Armento Rider') c.560–550 BC
British Museum, London
© Trustees of the British Museum
In addition to his visit to Greece in 1951 and his study of reproductions, Moore was familiar with the collection of ancient Greek art housed in the British Museum. In 1981 he selected a statue of an armed rider for publication in the book Henry Moore at the British Museum, in which objects from the museum’s collection that had influenced him during his career were collated. The sculpture, known as the ‘Armento Rider’ (fig.17), depicts a male warrior wearing a Corinthian-style helmet and short tunic, seated upon a horse. Although Moore’s introductory text makes no specific link between his helmet head series and the ‘Armento Rider’, and the statue should not be regarded as a direct source, this object demonstrates the diverse repertoire of forms that were available to Moore as he began to consider the structure of armour as a model for his sculpture.

Exhibition and interpretation

Henry Moore 'Pallas Athene Seals' c.1954
Henry Moore
Pallas Athene Seals c.1954
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In 2007 Tate’s version of Helmet Head and Shoulder was included in the exhibition Moore and Mythology, held at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertforshire. In this context the sculpture was discussed alongside two groups of drawings produced by Moore between 1943 and 1950 depicting mythological subjects from ancient Greek literature. The first group of drawings were illustrations for Edward Sackville-West’s play The Rescue, which was based on Homer’s Odyssey, while the second set comprised illustrations for the French writer André Gide’s translation of Goethe’s Prometheus, itself based on Aeschylus’s ancient tragedy Prometheus Bound. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue the curator David Mitchinson suggested that Helmet Head and Shoulders depicted Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of war, on the basis of its resemblance to two plaster seals that Moore later designed for the letterhead of the Pallas Gallery, London (fig.18).19 On the seals Athena is depicted with a thin neck that curves into a head marked by two triangular points that closely resemble the angled protrusions at the front of Helmet Head and Shoulders. If Mitchinson’s identification of Helmet Head and Shoulders is correct then the sculpture would occupy a unique place within Moore’s oeuvre. Moore rarely depicted specific characters in his sculptures, preferring instead to represent universal human features. Indeed, the appearance of the goddess of war would represent a pronounced departure from the trope of ‘Earth Mother’ that characterised earlier sculptures.
Henry Moore 'Carving' 1935
Henry Moore
Carving 1935
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
When a version of Helmet Head and Shoulders was displayed in Moore’s 1954 solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, the sculpture’s ties to ancient Greek sources were not immediately identified by critics. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, T.W. Earp noted that the exhibition, which also included a cast of King and Queen 1952–3 (Tate T00228), presented a confusion of styles.20 An unnamed critic writing for the Times made a similar observation, stating that the thirty-three sculptures on display ‘are varied, and for the most part rather experimental in style’.21 This critic went on to note that while some sculptures were evidently indebted to the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, ‘on the other hand there is a “Helmet head and shoulders” which recalls those of Mr Moore’s sculptures of the late 1930s inspired by sea-shells’.22 This author may have been referring to sculptures such as Carving 1935, in which Moore employed curved, hollowed and sweeping forms that carried associations with the human figure (fig.19).
A cast of Helmet Head and Shoulders belonging to Moore’s wife Irina was included in his solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in November 1960. The exhibition comprised sculptures made since 1950 and was Moore’s first major exhibition in London for five years. Writing in the Listener, the critic Keith Sutton noted that the layout and content of the exhibition created ‘the impression that the Whitechapel is, for the present, a noble and sombre anteroom to a great museum packed with treasures. We feel at once that all these works of art are in the mainstream of grand historical art – as we know it from museums’.23 Perhaps aware of Moore’s trip to Greece in 1951 and his ensuing ‘Greek’ phase, Sutton went on to state that ‘the visual association between this exhibition and the Elgin rooms at the British Museum is neither casual nor fortuitous. The allusions to classical forms are explicit in the works’.24 However, for Sutton, Moore’s works ‘make use of art history but do not interrogate it, they make statements rather than queries’.25 Sutton concluded his review by suggesting that Moore’s attempt to create a modern variation of heroic classical art had produced a set of works without any notion of human fallibility or capacity for self-reflection, leaving the artist open to ridicule and parody. Robertson similarly acknowledged the detrimental effects of Moore’s recourse to historical forms in the 1950s, writing in 1963 that ‘There was once a danger that a consciousness of art might stifle his development and his ability to be true to himself’.26

The Henry Moore Gift

Helmet Head and Shoulders 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’.27 The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.28 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’.29

Alice Correia
October 2013


For the sketches made between 1950 and 1951 see Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 4: Complete Drawings 1950–76, London 2003.
Henry Moore in conversation with David Mitchinson, 1980, extract of transcript reproduced in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.213.
John Russell, Henry Moore, London 1975, p.142.
For an explanatory video about the lost wax process see http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/sculpture-techniques/, accessed 17 October 2013.
Henry Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, broadcast BBC Radio, 14 July 1963, Tate Archive TGA 200816, pp.3–4. (An edited version of this interview was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7).
Ibid., p.4.
Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 2: Sculpture and Drawings 1949–1955, 1955, 2nd edn, London 1965, p.16 (?another cast reproduced pl.33).
Richard Calvocoressi, ‘T.2273 Helmet Head and Shoulders’, The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, p.120.
Andrew Causey, The Drawings of Henry Moore, London 2010, p.98.
Henry Moore, cited in Michael Chase, ‘Moore on his Methods’, Christian Science Monitor, 24 March 1967, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.214.
Julian Stallabrass, ‘Darkness in the Shelter’, in Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao 1990. See http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/people/stallabrass_julian/PDF/Bilbao.pdf, accessed 22 October 2013.
Moore cited in Chase 1967, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.214.
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.100.
Ibid., pp.102–3.
Ibid., pp.101–2.
Ibid., p.102.
Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1977, p.144.
Roger Cardinal, ‘Henry Moore: In the Light of Greece’, in Henry Moore: In the Light of Greece, exhibition catalogue, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros 2000, p.30.
David Mitchinson (ed.), Moore and Mythology, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green 2007, p.10.
T.W. Earp, ‘Henry Moore’s Coat of Many Colours’, Daily Telegraph, 12 February 1954, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Anon., ‘Mr. Moore’s New Bronzes’, Times, 15 February 1954, p.4.
Keith Sutton, ‘Henry Moore at Whitechapel’, Listener, 8 December 1960, p.1070.
Bryan Robertson, ‘Moore and Bacon’, Listener, 25 July 1963, p.128.
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, ‘Helmet Head and Shoulders 1952, cast date unknown by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, October 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-helmet-head-and-shoulders-r1171986, accessed 24 April 2024.