Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1959, cast 1962

This sculpture relates closely to its earlier counterpart Three Motives Against a Wall No.1 1958 (Tate T03763), which also features three amorphous forms set on a platform in front of a rear wall decorated with rectangular impressions. However, the three central ‘motives’ of is later work are more abstract in form and demonstrate how closely Moore studied the shapes of flint stones when he invented new sculptures.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Three Motives Against Wall No.2
1959, cast 1962
460 x 1083 x 381 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘Moore’ on side of base
Presented by the artist 1978
Number 10 in an edition of 10 plus 1 artist’s copy


The bronze sculpture Three Motives Against Wall No.2 comprises three individual amorphous forms positioned in a row on a stage-like platform set against an upright rectangular wall. This wall is imprinted with an arrangement of square and rectangular depressions and is joined to the horizontal platform to create a right-angled unit. The assembled bronze is mounted onto a copper-clad wooden base. The three forms, or motives, sit directly on the bronze base, to which they are attached with a bolt screwed from the underside. This particular subject and composition was first devised by Moore in 1958 when he created Three Motives Against a Wall No.1 (Tate T03763), although there are significant differences between this earlier sculpture and the present work.
Detail of left motive in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1958, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of middle motive in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1959, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of right motive in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1958, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The motive on the left-hand side is a single entity but comprises two globular, curvaceous forms that appear to be balanced one on top of the other (fig.1). Overall the motive is roughly oval-shaped, although from the front it appears as though two u-shaped forms have been slotted together leaving a small recess in the centre. The top edge of the motive dips slightly in the middle creating a concave curve, while the front is rounded and projects forward. By contrast, the middle motive consists of a thin, tubular shaft that rises vertically upwards from the base and is punctuated by two short protrusions, or stumps, on alternate sides (fig.2). The top of the shaft curves forwards at a right angle and culminates in a long, bulbous protrusion that makes the motive seem top heavy.
The right hand motive takes the form of a roughly-shaped sphere from which several bulbous protrusions emerge, encircling the object (fig.3). The top of this motive, however, is flat, as though the apex of the sphere has been sliced off. A notable feature of this motive is the sequence of parallel lines or rings that have been incised into the surface and run horizontally around the circumference. Although tool marks are visible on the other two motives, neither of them have been marked or patterned in a similar way to this right hand form.
A series of square and rectangular depressions decorate the rear wall, the surface of which is generally rough, suggesting that this element of the sculpture was cast from a plaster original (fig.4). Overall the sculpture is coloured with a vivid green patina. It has been signed ‘Moore’ and is numbered ‘10/10’ towards the rear of the right edge (fig.5).
Detail of rear wall in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1958, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of the artist's signature and edition number on Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1958, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

From plaster to bronze
Henry Moore 'Three Motives Against a Wall No.2' 1958
Henry Moore
Three Motives Against a Wall No.2 1958
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In order to make the sculpture in bronze Moore would have first made each element in plaster, modelling and shaping the forms with specialist spatulas and metal modelling tools (fig.6). It is likely that Moore made the base and the backdrop either in clay, which was then cast in plaster, or directly in plaster. The texture of the back wall suggests that Moore impressed rectangular objects into the surface to create the geometric pattern. It is probable that Moore made the plaster maquettes in his small maquette studio in the grounds of his home, Hoglands, at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. The studio was lined with shelves on which his ever growing collection of bones, shells, and pebbles – what he called his ‘library of natural forms’ – was stored.1 It is known that Moore often borrowed shapes from these organic objects when making his sculptures and it is probable that the curvilinear forms of the motives originated from his study of bones and stones.
Moore started collecting pebbles, shells and bones in the late 1920s and his sketch books from the 1930s contain studies of these natural forms, many of which are transformed into figures. The curator David Sylvester noted that Moore was attracted to organic forms ‘because of their potential for evoking things other than themselves, so that shapes derived from them could have a mysterious ambiguity’.2 By the late 1950s, when Three Motives Against Wall No.2 was created, Moore had all but eliminated the practice of making preparatory drawings for his sculptures, preferring instead to make small three-dimensional plaster models. According to Sylvester, ‘a high proportion of the [plaster] sketch-models have had as their point of departure a found pebble or bone or fragment of bone, while others have been made up while looking at pebbles and bones – as well, of course, as while remembering them’.3 When asked in 1960 how he arrived at an idea for a sculpture, Moore replied:
Well, in various ways. One doesn’t know really how ideas will come. But I can induce them by starting with looking at a box of pebbles. I have collected bits of pebbles, bits of bone, found objects, and so on, all of which help to give an atmosphere to start working. Then with those pebbles ... I sit down and something begins.4
Importantly, Sylvester noted that the stones and pebbles examined by Moore in the 1950s were different from those looked at in the 1930s. Unlike the smooth pebbles that informed the rounded elements of sculptures such as Four Piece Composition: Reclining Figure 1934 (Tate T02054) by the 1950s Moore was looking at ‘the sort of pebbles found inland – flints with sharply undulating contours and corners broken off leaving a jagged facet ... The objects are altogether rougher, more irregular, than before’.5
Photograph of stones in Moore's studio
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Maquette for Left Hand Form in Three Motives Against a Wall No.2' 1959
Henry Moore
Maquette for Left Hand Form in Three Motives Against a Wall No.2 1959
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

In 1987 the curator Alan Wilkinson asserted that the three forms in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 ‘were undoubtedly based on flint stones in the artist’s studio’.6 In particular, he identified a photograph of stones from Moore’s studio which includes a flint that closely resembles the middle motive of the sculpture (fig.7). This flint stone, positioned second from the right in the photograph, has truncated arm-like protrusions and a large bulbous head that curves forward at a right angle just like the central tall motive.7 Although Moore would often modify his flints and bones with additions and alternations in plaster, Wilkinson argued that in this instance he used the flint with ‘little alteration’.8 In 1963 he explained to Sylvester how he worked with found natural objects:
I look at them, handle them, see them from all round, and I may press then 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. This to me now is the beauty of each day if one’s working – that by the end of it you might have had something happen that you couldn’t possibly have foreseen.9
It is likely that in order to make the middle motive, Moore made a reproduction of the flint stone, and then, once the plaster had hardened, he accentuated and added forms, such as the two small protrusions on the top of the sculpture.
An additional plaster maquette also exists of the left-hand motive of Three Motives Against Wall No.2 (fig.8). According to Wilkinson ‘the surface of the plaster has been marked in pencil with points of reference for enlarging the maquette’, suggesting that at one stage Moore was thinking about producing this particular sculpture on a larger scale.10 Although this idea never materialised and the maquette was not cast in bronze, the basic form of this sculpture, which comprises two balanced or interconnected elements, may have provided a starting point for Moore’s larger sculpture Locking Piece 1963–4 (Tate T02293).
When they were completed Moore sent the plaster components to a professional foundry to be cast in bronze. The three motives were cast separately while the base and back wall appear to have been cast as a single piece. Records held at the Henry Moore Foundation reveal that Three Motives Against Wall No.2 was cast at the Art Bronze Foundry in London, in an edition of ten plus one artist’s proof. Not all of the examples in the edition were cast at the same time. The date of Tate’s cast is known from a bill issued by the foundry dated 7 June 1962 that lists ‘Wall & Motives, 10/10, £200’ among the items cast for Moore that month.11 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.
At the foundry the technicians would have used the original plasters to create hollow moulds into which molten bronze could be poured, and from which the multiple bronze versions could be made. While the three motives were most likely cast using the lost wax method, the base and the backdrop were probably cast using the sand casting method because the grainy texture on the back of the rear wall is typical of this casting procedure.
Detail of patina on right motive in Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1958, cast 1962
Tate T02281
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
After casting Moore would have inspected the quality of the bronze and made a decision 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 sculpture. Three Motives Against Wall No.2 has been treated with a vivid sea-green patina. In certain areas the patina on the sculpture has been rubbed back or worn down, revealing the darker brown colour beneath (fig.9). As Moore explained in 1960, after patination ‘you can then work on the bronze, work on the surface and let the bronze come through again, after you’ve made certain patinas. You rub it and wear it down as you hand might by a lot of handling. From this point of view bronze is the most responsive and unbelievably varied material’.12
According to Wilkinson, ‘in the original plaster and in the bronze casts each of the forms may be turned and positioned in various combinations’.13 This suggests that Moore allowed for an element of variation in the work: the sequence of the motives could be swapped and their orientation could be changed. Although minimal, this variation is evident between the Tate cast and the version held in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in which the middle motive has been swivelled slightly clockwise. Moore first explored the possibility of using moving parts within a sculpture while he was carving Screen for the Time-Life Building in Bond Street in 1952–3, which comprised four geometric stone arrangements that Moore wanted to be able to turn on a central pivot, but safety concerns prevented his scheme from being carried out.

Origins and interpretation

In his 1981 catalogue entry for Three Motives Against Wall No.2, which was based on conversations he had had with Moore in December 1980, the Tate researcher Richard Calvocoressi accounted for the origins of the sculpture:
his interest in making relief sculpture, which had lain dormant since his work on the London Underground Building in the late Twenties, was reawakened when he was commissioned to design a large wall relief in brick for the façade of the Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam, unveiled in December 1955. This project led to the idea of releasing the forms from their incorporation in the fabric of the wall so that they become free-standing, as in T.2281 [Three Motives Against Wall No.2].14
Henry Moore 'Unesco Reclining Figure' 1957–8
Henry Moore
Unesco Reclining Figure 1957–8
Unesco, Paris
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
While Moore’s wall relief commission at the Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam may have influenced his thinking with regard to sculpture and architecture, critics have agreed that the prevalence of sculptures made in the 1950s consisting of figures positioned against architectural features were a direct result of Moore’s commission to create a large-scale sculpture for the new Unesco headquarters in Paris in May 1955 (fig.10).15 According to Anita Feldman Bennet, between 1955–60 ‘Moore created thirty-four sculptures experimenting with positioning figures on steps, seated on platforms, benches, ledges or against walls’.16 Although Moore had made works for urban environments in the past, a statement made in 1951 reveals how he felt about the relationship between art and architecture: ‘I would rather have a piece of sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in, or on the most beautiful building I know’.17 With the Unesco commission, then, Moore faced the challenge of creating a sculpture that could be integrated into an architectural setting in a way that did not diminish the artwork’s formal qualities. As the critic Herbert Read explained in his introduction to a volume of Moore’s catalogue raisonné written in 1965:
In the case of the UNESCO commission he had to invent both concept and image, some symbol that had relevance to the educational and scientific aims of the institution established by the United Nations. There are several illustrations in this volume which show the artist struggling with the problem ... Some of these [preparatory] maquettes ... also illustrate the subsidiary but still very harassing problem of having to accommodate the piece of sculpture against a background of busy fenestration which tended to destroy its outlines and mass. The sculptor played with the possibility of interposing his own wall between the figure and the building, and though this solution was abandoned, it led to a theme, ‘the wall’, which the sculptor was to exploit later.18
Henry Moore 'Maquette for Girl Seated Against Square Wall' 1957
Henry Moore
Maquette for Girl Seated Against Square Wall 1957
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved
An example of this theme is Maquette for Girl Seated Against Square Wall 1957 (fig.11), which consists of a bony and wiry nude female seated on a tall cuboid bench in front of a flat wall that serves as a backdrop to the scene. Although the figure is seated sideways, her head and body twist towards the front. The rear wall is marked with small rectangular depressions of different lengths, which when seen from the front frame the figure’s head. These indentations might be regarded as windows and as such demonstrate Moore’s concern with the ways in which sculpture and architecture might respond to each other. Although the idea of constructing a wall around the Unesco sculpture was abandoned, as Read noted it was something that Moore exploited later, and informed Three Motives Against Wall No.2 and its earlier counterpart Three Motives Against a Wall No.1 1958.
Alan Wilkinson noted in 1987 that although Moore did not incorporate imprinted walls in his sculptures until the late 1950s, the ‘rectangular slotted walls first appear in the drawings as early as 1936 as a background for sculptural ideas. In some of the drawings diagonal walls lead into the picture space and with the background wall create a claustrophobic, cell-like setting, as in Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting of 1938’ (fig.12).19 The enclosed character of the spaces depicted in Moore’s drawings of the 1930s had previously been commented upon by the psychologist Erich Neumann in his book The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, published in 1959. Neumann suggested that:
the placing of the Ideas for Sculpture [fig.13] in a ‘setting’ animates these mysterious beings to an extraordinary degree and makes them even more uncanny. The setting ... [may] be taken as a symbol of our civilisation, or our urban, walled-in existence, and of the restrictedness of our consciousness, which has lost touch with nature and life. It is a prison life that the setting shows us, and our estrangement from nature, our imprisonment in a world of walls, is revealed in the eerie loneliness that surrounds each of the figures trapped in this terrifying milieu.20
Henry Moore 'Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting' 1938
Henry Moore
Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting 1938
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting' 1938
Henry Moore
Ideas for Sculpture in a Setting 1938
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved

Neumann went on to discuss Moore’s uncanny architectural spaces in relation to the work of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), whose work was admired by surrealist artists including René Magritte and Paul Nash. De Chirico’s paintings frequently depict enigmatic town squares, shadowy architectural facades and claustrophobic urban environments that create a tense and menacing atmosphere. In 1965 Read concurred stating that Three Motives Against Wall No.2, alongside the ‘Upright Motives’ series (Tate T02274–T02276) and Three Part Object 1960 (Tate T02285), was ‘as powerful and sinister as anything yet created by the sculptor’.21
In 1973 the critic John Russell sought to account for the indeterminate, amorphous forms of the three motives, arguing that they represented qualities that could not be expressed with reference to human experience. For Russell, in Three Motives Against Wall No.2
the three anonymous, unnameable forms are just there: no explanation comes to hand. Anyone who has watched a space-fiction serial will know that the most difficult thing is to carry conviction with an invented form that does not somewhere rely upon human or mechanical affinities. Moore has achieved, here, what the novelist and scenarist fall down on: the invention of forms which impress themselves immediately as definable personalities and yet do not appeal to already existing categories of experience.22
Moving away from these more cerebral interpretations, writing about the middle motive in 2006 Wilkinson reflected that ‘for many years it reminded me somewhat of a head of a hippopotamus, until a more perceptive young schoolboy gleefully exclaimed: “Look Mummy, Snoopy from Peanuts”’.23

The Henry Moore Gift

Henry Moore presented Three Motives Against Wall No.2 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’.24 Three Motives Against Wall No.2 was displayed in the exhibition next to Relief No.1 1959 (Tate T02284). The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.25 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’.26
Other casts of Three Motives Against Wall No.2 are held in the collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, and in private collections. The original plaster version of the sculpture is in the Moore Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Alice Correia
March 2013


See Henry Moore at Perry Green, London 2011, p.17.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, p.54.
Ibid., p.55.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.215.
Sylvester 1968, p.55.
Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto 1987, p.184.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Three Motives against Wall No.2’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.258.
Henry Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, p.18, transcript of Third Programme, broadcast BBC Radio, 14 July 1963, Tate Archive TGA 200816. (An edited version of this interview was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7.)
Wilkinson 1987, p.185.
Art Bronze Foundry, London, casting bill to Henry Moore, 7 June 1962, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Moore cited in Hall, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.234.
Wilkinson 1987, p.184.
[Richard Calvocoressi], ‘T.2281, Three Motives Against Wall No.2’, The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, p.126.
See, for example, Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work, London 1965, pp.212–19, and Julian Stallabrass, ‘Three Motives against Wall No.1’, in Mitchinson 2006, pp.256–8.
Anita Feldman Bennet, ‘Figures in Architectural Settings – the UNESCO Experiments’ in David Mitchinson (ed.), Henry Moore and the Challenge of Architecture, Much Hadham 2005, p.22.
Henry Moore cited in David Sylvester (ed.), Sculpture and Drawings by Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1951, p.4.
Herbert Read, ‘Introduction’, in Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 3: Sculpture and Drawings 1955–64, 1965, revised edn, London 1986, p.6.
Wilkinson 1987, p.177.
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.76.
Read in Bowness 1986, p.7.
John Russell, Henry Moore, London 1973, p.194.
Wilkinson, ‘Three Motives Against Wall No.2’, in Mitchinson 2006, p.258.
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, ‘Three Motives Against Wall No.2 1959, cast 1962 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, March 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-three-motives-against-wall-no2-r1171998, accessed 07 March 2021.