Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown

The form of this large sculpture draws on designs made by Moore in the 1930s that reflect his interest in the totemic symbolism of so-called ‘primitive’ art. It also relates to the artist’s preoccupation with hollowed, interior spaces, which developed in the 1950s. As the title indicates, the sculpture may be understood as a head, although the small maquette from which it originated was also described as a boat.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Large Totem Head
1968, cast date unknown
2458 x 1341 x 1258 mm
Inscribed ‘Moore’ on base and stamped with foundry mark ‘GUSS: H. NOACK BERLIN’ on side of base
Presented by the artist 1978
In an edition of 8 plus 1 artist’s copy


Henry Moore 'Large Totem Head' 1968, cast date unknown
Henry Moore
Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown (rear view)
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown (side view)
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Large Totem Head is an upright bronze sculpture with a smooth curved back and a concave front bisected down the centre by a vertical column or spine (fig.1). This feature accentuates the symmetrical qualities of the sculpture, which give it the appearance of an organic specimen, like a fruit sliced open to reveal its core. Seen from the rear the sculpture appears to take the form of a curved ovoid that expands outwards from the base before contracting inwards towards the top (fig.2). Both the base and the top of the sculpture are flat, as though their tips have been sliced off. From the side it is evident that the sculpture leans forward, creating the impression that it is top heavy (fig.3).

From plaster to bronze

Henry Moore 'Head: Boat Form' 1963
Henry Moore
Head: Boat Form 1963
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Large Totem Head is an enlarged version of a smaller sculpture called Head: Boat Form, which Moore made in 1963 (fig.4). This earlier work is the same shape as Large Totem Head, and features the same central spine and hollowed cavity, but is positioned horizontally, resting on the bulge of its back. In this position it is easy to identify the sculpture as a small rowing boat or dinghy, as suggested by its title. It is unclear why Moore decided in 1968 to revisit and enlarge this earlier sculpture, although at this stage in his career it was not uncommon for him to revise earlier works; in 1968 Moore also enlarged Large Slow Form (Tate T02290) from a small sculpture made in 1962. Moore felt justified to enlarge smaller works because he believed that ‘A small sculpture only three or four inches big can have a monumental scale ... When the work has this monumentality about it, then you can enlarge it almost to any size you like, and it will be alright; it will be correct’.1
By the early 1960s Moore had established a practice of making small plaster models or maquettes to develop his sculptural ideas. In 1978 he explained:
I have gradually changed from using preliminary drawings for my sculptures to working from the beginning in three-dimensions. That is, I first make a maquette for any idea I have for a sculpture. The maquette is only three or four inches in size, and I can hold it in my hand, turning it over to look at it from above, underneath, and in fact from any angle.2
Plaster maquette for Head: Boat Form 1963
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Alice Correia
It is likely that Moore made the plaster maquette for Head: Boat Form (fig.5) in the small sculpture studio on the grounds of his home, Hoglands, in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. The studio also housed his ever growing collection of natural objects and according to the filmmaker John Read, Moore liked to ‘shut himself away here, rummaging around, pondering and exploring’ the shapes of bones, shells and flint stones.3 In 1963 Moore explained to the critic David Sylvester how he borrowed and reconfigured the shapes of these objects for his own designs:
I look at them, handle them, see them from all round, and I may press them into clay and pour plaster into that clay and get a start as a bit of plaster, which is a reproduction of the object. And then add to it, change it. In that sort of way something turns out in the end that you could never have thought of the day before.4
It is possible that Head: Boat Form was produced by pressing a stone or bone into clay and pouring plaster into the depression it left. This piece of plaster would have then become the basis of the small maquette, which Moore could then model and add to how he wished. Head: Boat Form is one of many maquettes made over the course of Moore’s career that the artist chose to cast in bronze as a small table-top sculpture.
In 1968, having decided to enlarge Head: Boat Form, Moore set about creating an armature out of wood and possibly chicken wire, measured to the required size and shape of the larger sculpture based on the proportions of the maquette. The enlargement process was carried out in the plastic studio, a temporary structure erected in 1963 towards the back of the Hoglands estate, and was probably undertaken by Moore’s assistants because, as curator Julie Summers has noted, it was ‘a scientific rather than artistic process’.5 Once the armature had been constructed it was then draped in scrim, a bandage-like fabric, before successive layers of plaster were built up on top (fig.6). Moore would have taken over towards the end of this process to texture the surface of the plaster sculpture, which was replicated exactly in the bronze cast. The shallow parallel striations that feature on the upper areas of Large Totem Head were probably made using a cheese-grater (fig.7), while other textures may have been achieved using trowels and axes.
Full-size plaster version of Large Totem Head in the plastic studio at Hoglands 1968
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of striations on back of Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of foundry stamp on base of Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

When the plaster was complete it was sent to the Noack Foundry in West Berlin to be cast in bronze. In 1967 Moore stated, ‘I use the Noack foundry for casting most of my work because in my opinion, Noack is the best bronze founder I know ... Also, the Noack foundry is reliable in all ways – in keeping to dates of delivery – and in sustaining the quality of their work’.6 Large Totem Head was cast in an edition of eight, but it is not known when Tate’s example was cast, and it is unclear whether the whole edition was cast at the same time or over a period of years. The top of the base is inscribed with Moore’s signature while the foundry mark ‘GUSS:H.NOACK BERLIN’ has been stamped on the side (fig.8).
Detail of welding seam on Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
It is not known whether the lost wax or sand casting technique was used to create this bronze sculpture, but in either case the technicians at Noack would have cut up the plaster sculpture into sections and taken moulds from each individual piece, into which molten bronze was poured. Once all the pieces of the sculpture had been cast they were welded together and the casting seams ‘chased’ to render the joins as imperceptible as possible. However, welding seams, such as those on the front of Large Totem Head, sometimes become more prominent over time if the metal used to weld the sections together has a different composition to the surrounding area of bronze (fig.9).
After it had been assembled at the foundry Moore would have inspected the quality of the casting and made decisions about its 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 maintained that ‘I always patinate bronze myself’, explaining that since he had conceived the sculpture it would be unlikely that anyone else would be able to replicate the exact colour he wanted.7 Moore usually patinated bronze sculptures at his studio, but during the 1960s and early 1970s he regularly travelled to the Noack Foundry and patinated his sculptures on their premises to avoid the expense of transporting works of this size. It is also known that, contrary to Moore’s claim, the technicians at Noack would sometimes patinate his sculptures following his instructions.
Detail of patina variation on back of Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Tate’s cast of Large Totem Head has an overall warm red-brown patina, although darker brown shades can be seen at the top, bottom and in the interior cavity, while a golden-brown occupies the central curved section of the back (fig.10). Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and prolonged exposure to chemicals in the air alters its patina. Slightly green areas, mainly located on the sculpture’s lower areas, were likely produced in this way.

Sources and contexts

Henry Moore 'Ideas for Sculpture' 1935
Henry Moore
Ideas for Sculpture 1935
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The origins of Large Totem Head can be traced back to the 1930s, when Moore developed a vocabulary of forms that the critic Robert Melville described in 1970 as having a ‘Surrealist inventiveness’.8 In particular, the art historian Christa Lichtenstern has argued that Large Totem Head can be linked to a series of drawings made by Moore in 1935 based on documentary photographs he had seen in the second edition of the surrealist journal Minotaure in June 1933.9 This special issue was dedicated to the expedition to Dakar and Somalia undertaken by the Ethnological Institute of the University of Paris, and included photographs of a shrine for animals that had been ritually sacrificed. One of Moore’s drawings includes a sketch on the upper left of the page that resembles the shrine (fig.11). The sketch depicts a screen-like form made up of recessed oval spaces demarcated by four connected vertical columns. Below this Moore has drawn a single upright column of interconnecting forms, the lower section of which appears to feature an elliptical hollow with a central vertical spine. Lichtenstern argued that these upright, hollowed motifs prompted by the images in Minotaure were revisited in Large Totem Head, which she described as ‘an over-life-size head ... converted into a fetish-like “shrine architecture”’.10
Seen in light of these non-Western ethnographic sources it is possible to position Large Totem Head in relation to Moore’s engagement with ‘primitivism’, an over-arching term used by art historians to describe a tendency of early twentieth-century European modern art to emulate the forms and perceived values of non-Western art. The arts of so-called primitive cultures, which included tribal art from Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands, as well as prehistoric and medieval European art, were deemed to be more authentic than the refined figurative art of the European classical tradition. Moore’s interest in ancient and non-Western art was cemented during the 1920s when he spent time examining the collections of the British Museum. In an interview given in 1932 Moore acknowledged his admiration for non-Western art, stating:
The primitive simplifies, I think, through directness of emotional aim to intensify their expression. Simplicity as an aim in itself tends to emptiness and monotony, but simplicity in carving, interpreted as lack of surface trimmings, reveals the contrast in section, axis, direction and bulk between different shapes and so intensifies the three-dimensional power in a work.11
The simplified shapes and bulky forms of Large Totem Head seem to correspond closely to Moore’s early understanding of so-called primitive sculpture. In 2006 Lichtenstern developed her analysis of Large Totem Head, suggesting that it possessed ‘an exotic monumentality’ reminiscent of a standing Easter Island figure.12 In this later essay Lichtenstern speculated that the sculpture may have also derived from ‘numerous Dogon masks originating from Western Sudan that were depicted in this [second] issue of Minotaure.13 Lichtenstern described these masks as ‘being made up from two vertical indented rectangles which formed the oblong eyes; in between, a narrow vertical ridge marked the bridge of the nose’.14 This description suggests that Large Totem Head could be regarded as a schematically rendered face, an interpretation that seems to be supported by the work’s title. Furthermore, Tate researcher Richard Calvocoressi recorded that during a conversation with Moore in December 1980 the artist had described the sculpture as ‘evoking a huge impassive face with eyes.15
Henry Moore 'Upright Internal/External Form' 1952–3
Henry Moore
Upright Internal/External Form 1952–3
Tate T02272
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
While the formal origins of Moore’s interest in hollowed upright forms may lie in his drawings from the 1930s, it was not until the 1950s that these concerns were expressed in sculpture. Upright Internal/External Form 1952–3 (Tate T02272; fig.12), for example, comprises a vertically positioned pod-like form with a hollow interior that contains what appears to be a thin standing figure. A horizontal bar traverses the open end of the sculpture, enclosing the hollowed space behind. This compositional feature may relate to the vertical bar or spine that similarly cuts across the interior cavity of Large Totem Head. However, the absence of an internal form in the hollowed interior space of the later sculpture distinguishes it from Upright Internal/External Form, which has been understood to evoke embryonic growth in a womb. For Large Totem Head it seems that Moore chose instead to focus his attention on the exterior shell and the emptiness of the interior space.
Considering Large Totem Head in relation to Moore’s surrealist drawings of the 1930s, his experiments with internal and external forms in the 1950s, and Head: Boat Form from 1963, draws attention to Moore’s life-long interest in revisiting and developing his earlier preoccupations. In the 1930s Moore did not have the financial resources to produce bronze sculptures of the scale of Large Totem Head, but by 1968 had become wealthy enough to bring earlier ideas to their fullest conclusions.

The Henry Moore Gift

Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown, being installed on the lawn in front of the Tate Gallery, 1978
Tate T02302
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Large Totem 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’.16 Large Totem Head was installed on the lawn in front of the gallery for the duration of the exhibition (fig.13), which was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.17 At its close in late August 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’.18
After the 1978 exhibition Tate decided that it should lend certain large-scale works from the Henry Moore Gift to regional galleries in the United Kingdom on a long-term basis.19 In January 1981 Large Totem Head was lent to the Cooper Art Gallery in Barnsley. Except for a four-month period in 1987 when the sculpture was exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, Large Totem Head remained at the Cooper Art Gallery until 1996. Since that date the sculpture has been on permanent display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Large Totem Head exists in an edition of eight plus one artist’s copy. In addition to Tate’s work, examples of the sculpture can be found in the collections of The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green; the City of Nuremberg; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montreal; and the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas. Three casts are known to be held in private collections but the whereabouts of the remaining sculpture are unknown.

Alice Correia
September 2013


Henry Moore cited in Warren Forma, Five British Sculptors: Work and Talk, New York 1964, pp.67, 73, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.207.
Henry Moore cited in Gemma Levine, With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work, London 1978, p.123.
John Read in Henry Moore: One Yorkshireman Looks at His World, dir. by John Read, television programme, broadcast BBC 2, 11 November 1967, http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/henrymoore/8807.shtml, accessed 3 November 2013.
Henry Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, broadcast BBC Radio, 14 July 1963, p.18, Tate Archive TGA 200816. (An edited version of this interview was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7.)
Julie Summers, ‘Fragment of Maquette for King and Queen’, in Claude Allemand-Cosneau, Manfred Fath and David Mitchinson (eds.), Henry Moore From the Inside Out: Plasters, Carvings and Drawings, Munich 1996, p.126. Between 1967 and 1968, when the enlargement process was probably undertaken, Moore’s assistants included Colin Barker, John Farnham, Ramy Shuklinsky, Richard Wentworth and Yeheskiel Yardini.
Henry Moore, letter to Heinz Ohff, 8 March 1967, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, pp.3–4, Tate Archive TGA 200816.
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921–69, London 1970, p.19.
Moore was an avid reader of surrealist periodicals and during the 1930s his work was reproduced in Minotaure and the International Surrealist Bulletin. See Julia Kelly, ‘The Unfamiliar Figure: Henry Moore in French Periodicals of the 1930s’, in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, pp.43–65.
Christa Lichtenstern, ‘Henry Moore and Surrealism’, Burlington Magazine, vol.123, no. 944, November 1981, p.657.
Henry Moore, ‘On Carving’, New English Weekly, 5 May 1932, pp.65–6, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.190.
Christa Lichtenstern, ‘Large Totem Head’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.287.
Ibid., p.288.
Richard Calvocoressi, ‘T.2302 Large Totem Head’ in The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, p.141.
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 exhibition’s records; 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.
See Judith Jeffries, letter to Joanna Drew, 3 October 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/9/400/1.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Large Totem Head 1968, cast date unknown by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, September 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-large-totem-head-r1171990, accessed 06 May 2021.