Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964-6

Moon Head 1964 is a bronze sculpture that explores notions of thinness and relates closely to Moore’s Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece, completed two years earlier. Another cast of the sculpture was patinated a golden colour and reminded Moore of the light and shape of the moon.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Moon Head
1964, cast c.1964–6
578 x 442 x 255 mm
Inscribed ‘Moore 0/9’ on base and stamped ‘H. NOACK BERLIN’ on lower edge of sculpture
Presented by the artist 1978
Artist’s copy aside from an edition of 9


Moon Head 1964 is a bronze sculpture comprised of two thin, irregularly shaped disc-like forms that each stem from an elliptical tubular neck mounted on a bronze base. The two sections of the sculpture are similarly sized and positioned in parallel with each other a few centimetres apart, although they are not aligned directly so that a part of one can always be seen behind the other (fig.1). Seen from each end, it is possible to look through the narrow canyon-like passage between the two pieces (fig.2). From these side views it is evident that each disc has gently undulating surfaces and that each one thins as it tapers towards its upper edge. The way in which the two discs appear to gravitate towards and away from each other at various points gives the impression that the sculpture had, at one time, been a single unit that has been peeled apart.
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6 (side view)
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The outer edges of the sculpture are thin, akin to a knife-edge, and feature irregularly shaped gouges that extend towards the centre of each disc. One disc has a large round shape cut from its upper edge (fig.3), while the other disc has an elongated U-shaped notch cut into its lower right edge (fig.4). Although the sculpture was designed to be seen in the round, and has no obvious front or back, Moore did indicate in 1968 that he regarded the disc with the larger incision at its top as ‘the back’.1
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

From plaster to bronze
The design of Moon Head is a scaled enlargement of Moore’s Maquette for Head and Hand 1962 (fig.5). Taking its title as a guide, this earlier sculpture can be understood to comprise a head – represented by the disc with the lower horizontal incision, which may denote an open mouth – and a hand – conveyed by the gap in the other disc, which appears to delineate a thumb and forefinger. To create an enlarged bronze version of this sculpture, Moore would have first made a full-size model in plaster, built up over a supportive armature made of wire or wood (fig.6). This work was probably undertaken in his studio at his home, Hoglands, in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. Using an array of tools – including chisels, files and sandpaper – Moore could create different textures according to how wet or dry the plaster was, and these were replicated in the final bronze version. In 1968 Moore explained his preference for plaster when creating a sculpture to be cast in bronze:
I like using plaster as the preliminary material for my bronzes. When people talk about ‘truth to materials’ it doesn’t strictly apply to bronze, because a sculptor does not take a solid piece of bronze and cut it into shape as he does a piece of stone. For a bronze, he first has to make his original in something else. The special quality of bronze is that you can reproduce with it almost any form and any surface texture through expert casting.2
Henry Moore 'Maquette for Head and Hand' 1962
Henry Moore
Maquette for Head and Hand 1962
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Moon Head' 1964
Henry Moore
Moon Head 1964
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of foundry stamp on Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moon Head was cast in an edition nine plus one the artist’s copy at the Noack Foundry in West Berlin, and the sculpture is marked with the foundry’s stamp (fig.7). It is not known for certain whether the whole edition was cast at once or over a period of years. During the 1960s Moore used a number of different foundries depending on the size of the sculpture and how quickly a cast was required. 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’.3 This sculpture was probably made using the sand casting technique, although the finely polished surfaces provide little definitive evidence of the casting methods used.
Detail of artist's signature and edition number on base of Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
According to records held at the Henry Moore Foundation, the base of this sculpture was cast separately at the Art Bronze Foundry in London. Moore often chose to have the bases of his sculptures – which were usually less complex in form – cast at smaller foundries in London. Tate’s sculpture is signed and inscribed with the edition number ‘Moore 0/9’ on the side of the base, indicating that this was the artist’s copy (fig.8).
Detail of patina on Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
After it was cast the bronze sculpture was probably returned to Moore so that he could check the quality of the cast, apply a patina, and mount the two parts onto the base. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the pre-heated bronze surface. Tate’s sculpture has a speckled appearance, created by spraying or flicking the chemical patina solution onto the bronze from a stiff brush, and features contrasting dark brown and lighter, copper-coloured areas (fig.9). It is likely that the darker patina was rubbed back at the edges and convex points to allow the lighter tones to shine through. In order to prevent the lighter tones from oxidising and changing colour, a coat of protective lacquer was applied to the surface. Publicly, Moore always maintained that he patinated his works himself, and rarely acknowledged that this work was more often undertaken by his assistants. In 1988 the sculptor Richard Wentworth recalled the time he spent working for Moore in the summer of 1967, noting that having ‘passed the test’ of washing a large sculpture without leaving drip marks, he ‘was set to using metal polish on Moon Head’.4 It is not known whether Wentworth polished Tate’s version of the sculpture, but his recollections give an insight into what kind of finishing work was undertaken at Moore’s studio and how tasks were allocated.
It is notable that Tate’s example of Moon Head has a very different patina to that usually described in relation to this work. Discussing Moon Head in 1968 Moore stated:
The small version of this piece was originally called ‘Head in Hand’, the hand being the piece at the back. When I came to make it in full size, about eighteen inches high, I gave it a pale gold patina [fig.10] so that each piece reflected a strange, almost ghostly, light at the other. This happened quite by accident. It was because the whole effect reminded me so strongly of the light and shape of the full moon that I have since called it ‘Moon Head’.5
Since Tate’s example was originally the artist’s copy, it can be reasonably assumed that Moore was satisfied with its patina, and that it was not his intention to colour every cast in the edition in the same way.6 Nevertheless, the reproduction of the example with the golden finish in major publications such as Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work (1965) by the critic Herbert Read, and the widespread citation of his 1968 statement about Moon Head,have informed subsequent critical discussions of the sculpture.7
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Moon Head 1964 (with golden patina)
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Moon Head 1964
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Another example of Moon Head is held in the Singapore Art Museum (donated by the Sarah Lee Corporation). The remaining casts are believed to be in private collections. The original full-size plaster version is held in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, while the Henry Moore Foundation owns a porcelain version of Moon Head, which was cast in an edition of six plus one artist’s copy in 1964 (fig.11).

Affinities and influences

In 1968 the curator and critic David Sylvester identified Moon Head as belonging to a group of sculptures made by Moore in the early 1960s that demonstrated a preoccupation with thin, flat, sharp-edged forms.8 Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece 1962 (Tate T00603; fig.12), for example, comprises two thin, loosely rectangular forms positioned in parallel with one another, which, according to Moore, have ‘a kind of sliding relationship, like two sliding doors’.9 In this earlier work Moore was particularly interested in exploring the formal relationship between thinness and broadness, believing that ‘sculpture has some disadvantages compared with painting, but it can have one great advantage over painting – that it can be looked at from all round; and if this attitude is used and fully exploited then it can give to sculpture a continual, changing, never-ending surprise and interest’.10 The two-part design of Moon Head and the interstitial space established between the two thin forms (fig.13) bear comparison with Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece. In the same way that the two forms of the earlier sculpture appear to slide past each other when viewed in the round, Sylvester noted that ‘the highly polished bronze’ of Moon Head ‘gives rise, as one looks from the side through the gap between the discs, to a rippling effect in the facing inner surfaces, a ripple as of water which makes the blades seem altogether fluid, so that one feels that here too one is invited to penetrate the space’.11
Henry Moore 'Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece' 1962, cast 1963
Henry Moore
Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece 1962, cast 1963
Tate T00603
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Moon Head' 1964, cast c.1964–6
Henry Moore
Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6
Tate T02297
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Barbara Hepworth 'Disks in Echelon' 1935, cast 1959
Barbara Hepworth
Disks in Echelon 1935, cast 1959
Tate T03132
© Bowness, Hepworth Estate
Although he never admitted to being influenced by the work of his contemporary Barbara Hepworth, Moore’s decision to place the two component parts of Moon Head in parallel with one another is, according to the curator Alan Wilkinson, reminiscent of Hepworth’s Disks in Echelon 1935 (Tate T03132; fig.14).12 In this sculpture, which was originally carved in wood, Hepworth positioned two vertically orientated discs ‘in echelon’, a term that refers to two parallel components where one is in advance of the other. Hepworth’s presentation of sculptural forms in echelon became a recurring compositional motif in her work, and Moore would certainly have been familiar with it.
Marble Figurine of a Woman c.2600–2400 BC
Marble Figurine of a Woman c.2600–2400 BC
British Museum, London
© Trustees of The British Museum
Despite the clear formal affinities between his work and Hepworth’s, Moore chose to highlight the influence of natural materials and ancient Cycladic art in discussions of Moon Head. In 1969 he wrote:
The white [porcelain] two-form sculpture I call ‘Moon Head’ is one of several recent Knife-Edge sculptures I’ve made which have all come about through my interest in bone forms – for example the breast bones of birds – so light, so delicate + yet so strong – But I can also think that my Knife-Edge sculptures may be unconsciously influenced by my liking for the sharp-edged Cycladic idols [fig.15].13
Moore first encountered examples of Cycladic figurines in the British Museum while he was a student in London in the 1920s. His reflections on Moon Head were made in a letter dated June 1969, written to Lord Eccles, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, in response to an invitation to exhibit examples of his work alongside the museum’s collection of ancient Cycladic carvings. Moore’s early interest in Cycladic art may be aligned with the broader artistic tendency known as ‘primitivism’. This over-arching term is used by art historians to describe a propensity of early twentieth-century European modern art to emulate the forms and perceived values of non-Western art, as well as prehistoric and medieval European art. Moore’s interest in so-called ‘primitive’ art dated from his time as a student at Leeds School of Art, where, in 1920, he read the art critic Roger Fry’s influential book Vision and Design (1920), which included chapters on African, Islamic and ancient American arts. In 1947 Moore recalled that ‘Fry opened the way to other books and to the realisation of the British Museum. That was the beginning really ... One room after another in the British Museum took my enthusiasm’.14 Moore admired the ancient marble figurines for their simplified bodily forms and for their emotive power, remarking to Eccles: ‘I love + admire Cycladic sculpture. It has such great elemental simplicity ... The Cycladic marble vases are remarkable inventions, seen just as sculpture in themselves – + the thinness, looked at from the side, of the standing idol figures, adds to their incredible sensitivity.’15
In October 1969 a porcelain version of Moon Head was exhibited in the newly opened Greek and Roman galleries in the British Museum. In an editorial published in the journal Apollo, the critic Denys Sutton applauded the museum’s new display but cautioned that:
exercises of this nature should be undertaken with discrimination ... It is for this reason all the more surprising to find that the new galleries contain one modern work – Moon head by Henry Moore. Few would dispute that Mr. Moore is a leading contemporary sculptor, but whether it was sensible to represent him (and him alone) in these galleries is another and a debatable question.
The idea behind the inclusion of this piece is that the public will be made more receptive to ancient art if it is shown in relationship with that of our period; but it is pretty futile to do this with a work which, if anything, seems closer to Negro than to Cycladic art. In any event it is a shallow theory, for Classical art must be enjoyed on its own terms.16
Undated mask of a Buffalo from northern Nigeria
Nigerian Museum, Lagos
In 1984 Tate’s cast of Moon Head was included in the exhibition Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). In this exhibition Moore’s sculpture was presented as an example of Western primitivism alongside works by Constantin Brancusi, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso, among others. In the exhibition catalogue Alan Wilkinson asserted that any formal affinities between Moon Head and the Cycladic figurines identified by Moore were purely coincidental. He revealed instead that William Fagg, a leading scholar on African art, had told him that ‘the exact source for the hand-shaped form ... was a Mama mask of a buffalo from Nigeria, which is illustrated in Fagg’s 1963 book, Nigerian Images’ (fig.16).17 Moore had been given a copy of Fagg’s book shortly after its publication by the art dealer Harry Fischer, and Wilkinson asserted that Moore ‘transformed the symmetrical Mama mask into something resembling an abstract horned head or giant asymmetrical hand’.18 He concluded that the sculpture ‘would appear to be the last Moore sculpture to have been inspired by tribal art’.19 However, in 2006 Wilkinson recanted his earlier assertion, acknowledging that ‘I had failed ... to take into account the 1962 Maquette for Head and Hand, on which it was based, made a year before Fagg’s book was published’.20 Wilkinson went on to ponder, ‘did Fagg have another African mask in mind, or were the affinities between the 1964 Moon Head and the Mama Mask of a Buffalo so strong that he convinced himself that Moore must have been inspired by the African carving?’21 Wilkinson concluded that the numerous possible sources for, and varied associations prompted by Moon Head ‘attests to the evocative resonance of Moore’s art’.22

The Henry Moore Gift

Installation view of The Henry Moore Gift, Tate Gallery, 1978
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moon 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’.23 Moon Head was exhibited in gallery eighteen alongside Working Model for Three Way Piece No.1: Points 1964 (Tate T02298) and Working Model for Three Way Piece No.2: Archer 1964 (Tate T02299) (fig.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’.24

Alice Correia
March 2014


Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.466.
Ibid., p.300.
Henry Moore, letter to Heinz Ohff, 8 March 1967, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Richard Wentworth, ‘The Going Concern: Working For Moore’, Burlington Magazine, vol.130, no.1029, December 1988, p.927.
Moore cited in Hedgecoe 1968, p.466.
Shortly after Tate had taken receipt of the works that made up the Henry Moore Gift, a number of the sculptures were returned to the artist so that he could adjust the patina, but Moon Head was not one of these.
See, for example, ‘Henry Moore, Moon Head 1964, Lot 11’, Modern & Post-War British Art, auction catalogue, Sotheby’s, London, 10 May 2012, L12141.html/f/11/L12141-11.pdf">http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/lot.pdf.L12141.html/f/11/L12141-11.pdf, accessed 4 March 2014.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery,London 1968, p.119.
Henry Moore, letter to Dennis Farr, 15 October 1963, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23945.
Henry Moore cited in Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture, London 1966, p.278.
Sylvester 1968, p.119.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Moon Head’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.279.
Henry Moore, letter to Lord Eccles, June 1969, reprinted in Henry Moore at the British Museum, London 1981, p.13.
Henry Moore cited in James Johnson Sweeney, ‘Henry Moore’, Partisan Review, March–April 1947, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations,Aldershot 2002, pp.44–5.
Henry Moore, letter to Lord Eccles, June 1969, reprinted in Moore 1981, p.13.
[Denys Sutton], ‘A Question of Standards’, Apollo, vol.90, no.92, October 1969, p.281.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Henry Moore’, in William Rubin (ed.), Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, vol.2, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1984, p.609.
Wilkinson 2006, p.279.
Ibid., p.280.
See ‘Note on the Henry Moore Gift’, 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
Norman Reid, letter to Mary Danowski, 31 August 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Moon Head 1964, cast c.1964–6 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, March 2014, 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-moon-head-r1171987, accessed 21 April 2024.