Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Three Points 1939-40, cast before 1949

Comprised of three thorn-like forms that converge but do not touch, Three Points has been interpreted by critics as expressing a sense of menace or threat, while Moore himself considered it to animate something akin to an electrical charge. Numerous art historical precedents for the sculpture have been identified, including works by Michelangelo, Picasso and Giacometti, revealing it to be one of Moore’s most widely discussed abstract artworks.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Three Points
1939–40, cast before 1949
140 x 190 x 95 mm
Presented by the artist 1978
In an edition of 2 prior to an edition of 8 plus 1 artist’s copy


Henry Moore 'Three Points' 1939–40, cast before 1949
Henry Moore
Three Points 1939–40, cast before 1949
Tate T02269
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Three Points is a highly polished, single-piece bronze sculpture mounted on a wooden base (fig.1). It takes the form of a C-shaped wedge positioned on its curved back. The two arms of this shape curve up and arch over the thicker middle from which they grow, converging into two sharpened points that turn towards each other and come within a few millimetres of touching. Running up through the centre of this almost oval composition is another sharp spike, which rises up rigidly towards the two other points and almost meets them.
One arm of the sculpture rises higher than the opposite arm, so that the point extending from the taller side points downwards on a diagonal, while the tip from the shorter side points upwards at the same angle (fig.2). The central conical point also extends on a diagonal from the concave inner surface of the bronze.
Detail of patina on Three Points 1939–40, cast before 1949
Tate T02269
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of pinpoint holes on Three Points 1939–40, cast before 1949
Tate T02269
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The outer surface of the sculpture is smooth and rounded, and does not show any tooling marks, although a number of pinpoint holes can be seen in the inner concave bronze surface (fig.3).

Casting Three Points

Versions of Three Points exist in three different materials: lead, iron and bronze. The first version of Three Points was cast in lead in 1939–40, and it is likely that that this version was one of a number of small metal sculptures cast by Moore and his assistant, Bernard Meadows, in a kiln constructed in the garden at Burcroft, Moore’s cottage in Kent. This practice of ‘backyard casting’ was relatively common among artists making small scale metal sculptures in the 1930s, and lead was a particularly favoured material due to its low melting point. On 9 December 1987 Tate curator Judith Collins interviewed Meadows with particular reference to his role in the creation of Moore’s lead sculptures. She recorded that Meadows ‘remembers casting lead pieces during the summer months of 1938 and 1939’, and that he ‘then stayed on alone at Burcroft in the winter holidays of 1938 and 1939 working on the lead casts’.1
In order to create the lead Three Points it is likely that Moore first made a model of the sculpture in wax. Meadows recalled in 1987 that the wax used for the lead sculptures made between 1938 and 1940 was ‘beeswax, bought from Boots the Chemist’ in Canterbury.2 Having modelled the original wax sculpture it was then encased in a hard material, usually plaster mixed with an aggregate of ground-up pottery. Moore then used the lost wax technique to cast the lead version. This involved heating the sculpture in a kiln until the wax had melted out of the casing before molten lead was poured into the sculpture-shaped void. After the lead had cooled and hardened the outer casing was removed to reveal the sculpture inside. One of the disadvantages of this method was that since the original wax sculpture was lost in the process, there was only one opportunity to cast the sculpture, which meant that if something went wrong, the sculpture would be lost.
It is known that Moore cast at least sixteen lead sculptures at Burcroft between 1938 and 1940. Fourteen of these, including Three Points, were exhibited at his exhibition New Sculpture and Drawings at the Leicester Galleries, London, in February 1940. Although the Second World War put a halt to Moore’s sculptural production, according to records held at the Henry Moore Foundation two bronze versions of Three Points were cast before 1949, one of which became Tate’s copy.3 It is not known which foundry Moore used to cast these two bronze versions, but it is believed that they were cast from a plaster copy taken from the original lead sculpture. In addition to Three Points Moore also cast Reclining Figure 1939 (Tate T03761) in bronze from the original lead version around the same time.
Sometime before 1957 Moore also cast Three Points in iron, and in 1958 Moore cast a further eight examples of the sculpture in bronze, plus an artist’s copy.4 Although Moore later stated that his decision to re-cast earlier lead sculptures was due to the vulnerability of the material and to ‘save the idea’, the decision to re-cast works in multiples may also have been driven by financial reasons.5 By the mid-1950s Moore’s work was in much greater demand from collectors and patrons and re-casting smaller works in editions of eight or nine would have been a practical way of satisfying this increasing demand. At this time Moore worked with a number of different London-based commercial galleries including Roland Browse and Delbanco, Gimpel Fils and the Leicester Galleries, all of which sold small scale sculptures by Moore that could be placed on table tops within the home. In July 1958 Marlborough Fine Art, which had premises in London and New York, became Moore’s principle dealers, and it is believed that this gallery either commissioned or bought out the edition of Three Points cast that year.6
Photograph of fused points dated 24 February 1983
Tate T02269
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In 1980, two years after Three Points entered the Tate collection, Tate’s research assistant Richard Calvocoressi visited Moore at his home in Hertfordshire to discuss the sculpture with him. Calvocoressi reported that during a conversation with Moore on 12 December, ‘the artist said that it was important that the points in the sculpture should not touch (in some bronzes, due to a fault in the casting, the points actually meet)’.7 On inspection of the sculpture Calvocoressi found that the points of Tate’s example did indeed touch (fig.4), and so he wrote to Moore’s secretary stating, ‘Unfortunately the points in Tate’s bronze do actually meet. Our Conservation Department has inspected the work and would prefer Mr Moore himself to separate the points. Since the sculpture is small, there should be no problem returning it to him for modification’.8 Conservation photographs taken at Tate before and after treatment are dated 24 February 1983 and 11 October 1983 respectively, indicating that there was a delay between the time the fault was first reported and Moore’s undertaking of the repair.
It is likely that when the points were separated the patina on the sculpture was also adjusted to reflect the formal changes. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the pre-heated bronze. Tate’s version of Three Points has been patinated a dark brown colour, but this was rubbed back at the points to reveal a golden tone that accentuates the sharpened forms. Other areas of the sculpture have a speckled appearance where this lighter underlying colour shows through.

Sources and interpretation

In 1978 Moore explained the ideas behind the composition of Three Points:
In 1940 I made a sculpture with three points [the lead version of Three Points], because this pointing has an emotional or physical action in it where things are just about to touch but don’t. There is some anticipation of this action. Michelangelo used the same theme in his fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, of God creating Adam, in which the forefinger of God’s hand is just about to touch and give life to Adam. It’s also like the points in the sparking plug of a car, where the spark has to jump across the gap between the points. There is a very beautiful early French painting (Gabrielle d’Estrées with her sister in the bath), where one sister is just about to touch the nipple of the other. I used this sense of anticipation first in the Three Points of 1940, but there are other, later works where one form is nearly making contact with the other. It is very important that the points do not actually touch. There has to be a gap.9
Henry Moore 'Drawing for Sculpture with Points' c.1938
Henry Moore
Drawing for Sculpture with Points c.1938
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore first conceived the idea of a ‘gap’ between which forms are ‘almost touching’ in the late 1930s. The curator Alan Wilkinson has dated Moore’s interest in pointed forms to a sketch from c.1938 titled Drawing for Sculpture with Points, which shows a variety of conical forms pointing towards each other, separated by a gap of a few millimetres (fig.5). Moore annotated the page with the note, ‘do drawings of two forms practically touching’ and the phrase ‘points practically touching’.
Henry Moore 'Pointed Forms' 1940
Henry Moore
Pointed Forms 1940
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna
Photo © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In a discussion of Three Points, the critic Herbert Read proposed that ‘the points are evolved from the breasts of a female torso, but the geometricisation of the motive has passed beyond any trace of humanity’.10 Read’s account of the origins of Three Points is supported by the drawing Pointed Forms 1940 (fig.6), in which a row of female torsos and a female reclining figure can be found in the upper right of the page. In this drawing the breasts and navels of the female torsos have been presented as pairs of upward and downward pointing spikes, leaving a gap in their sternums. Significantly, a fully formed sketch of Three Points can be identified in the upper left corner of this page. Although these sketches have been dated to 1940, the critic and curator David Sylvester has stated that they were actually made in 1939, and it is likely that Moore misdated the page sometime after its completion.11
Discussing the sketches contained within Pointed Forms in 1970, the critic Robert Melville agreed with Read’s assessment that ‘all the studies are based on the female breast’.12 He concurred that the breasts of female torsos are transformed into touching points, and went on to suggest that ‘shape-consciousness and idea are inextricably involved in the creation of an image of a “cruel” breast’.13 On looking at Three Points, Melville concluded, ‘we are in the presence of a biomorphic femme fatale’.14 With reference to a Venus flytrap, Melville suggested that ‘the needle-sharp spikes look as if they can retract after making contact. They even convey the impression that their function is to impale, and that they can take likely prey by surprise by withdrawing entirely into the body from which they project’.15 Despite these sexualised readings of the sculpture, Calvocoressi reported that during his conversation with Moore in 1980 the artist ‘used the analogy of the sparking plug’ to convey ‘a sense of anticipation and anxiety’.16
Michelangelo 'The Creation of Adam' c.1511–12
The Creation of Adam c.1511–12
Sistine Chapel, Vatican
In 1979 Wilkinson recalled that Moore had ‘said that it was a mistake to try to track down a single source for Three Points’.17 As already noted, Moore himself identified a number of points of reference for the sculpture. Chief among these may be Michelangelo’s fresco depicting the creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican (fig.7). Representing the split second before Adam is touched with life, Michelangelo’s painting captures a moment of dramatic anticipation. In 1964 Moore recognised his debt to Michelangelo, recalling that as a young man ‘I still knew that as an individual he was an absolute superman. Even before I became a student I’d taken a peculiar obsessive interest in him’.18 In 1998 Moore’s niece, Ann Garrould, recalled how ‘in 1952, standing below Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, Moore turned to [her] ... and remarked on the charge of electricity which seemed to flow between the two fingers, adding: “It’s a bit like what I intended in a sculpture I did just before the war – creating a sense of tension”’.19
School of Fontainebleau 'Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Her Sister, the Duchess of Villars' c.1594
School of Fontainebleau
Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Her Sister, the Duchess of Villars c.1594
Musée du Louvre, Paris
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Perhaps building on Read’s suggestion that the points of this sculpture developed from a female torso, in 1968 Sylvester stated that ‘the painting which was in fact Moore’s source of inspiration was the School of Fontainebleau double portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and her sister in the bathtub’ (fig.8).20 In the painting, which Moore also identified as a source in 1974, the sister pinches Gabrielle’s nipple between her forefinger and thumb, and according to Sylvester it was this ‘fastidious pinching’ which ‘gave Moore the idea of making a sculpture in which three points would converge’.21 Sylvester had worked as Moore’s secretary in 1944 and during that time gained knowledge of Moore’s daily working processes and interests. In 1979 Wilkinson wrote that ‘Moore no doubt mentioned the Fontainebleau portrait to Sylvester’, but questioned whether Moore had wanted his sculpture to be tied so emphatically to the painting.22 By 1984 Wilkinson even suggested that Sylvester’s Fontainebleau reference was ‘unlikely’, and went on to claim that ‘when I discussed the Fontainebleau portrait with Moore, he rather whimsically dismissed the issue, and indicated that he was, one might say, leading Sylvester on a merry chase’.23
Pablo Picasso 'Horse's Head, Study for Guernica' 1937
Pablo Picasso
Horse's Head, Study for Guernica 1937
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Succession Picasso/DACS 2015
Sylvester also identified another, perhaps more likely source for the sculpture in Pablo Picasso’s large-scale painting Guernica 1937 (Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid). In this painting, which was made in response to the bombing of the eponymous Basque town during the Spanish Civil War, the ‘horse’s mouth open in agony and a thrusting tongue with the form of a conical spike’ anticipates the overall shape of Three Points.24 Picasso’s preparatory painting Horse’s Head, Study for Guernica 1937 (fig.9) was included in the anthology of comparative visual material published at the end of Moore’s 1968 Tate exhibition catalogue, and Sylvester concluded that ‘it is possible that Moore unconsciously derived the spike from Picasso’.25 Moore had been aware of Picasso’s work since his student days at Leeds School of Art, and in 1973 reflected that ‘really all my practicing life was as a student, and as a sculptor I have been very conscious of Picasso because he dominated sculpture and painting – even sculpture as well as painting – since Cubism’.26 Moore made regular trips to Paris, where Picasso lived and worked, and in the summer of 1937 he and a group of artists including Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst and Roland Penrose were invited by Picasso to his studio to view the progress of Guernica.
Given that Three Points was made upon the outbreak of the Second World War and has formal connections to Guernica, the associations made by the sculpture, according to art historian Christopher Green, ‘are all of war, death and terror’.27 Green observed that ‘this sculpture’s Guernica resonances are strong enough to ensure that death is kept well in view’.28 Moore’s reluctance to analyse what his friend the art historian Kenneth Clark described as ‘the deep disturbing well from which emerged his finest drawings and sculpture’, may account for the artist’s identification of spark plugs and other non-violent, art historical subjects as sources for Three Points.29 Yet for many critics the sculpture was irredeemably charged with a sense of menace. In 1964 Herbert Read described it as a ‘spicular object’ that illustrated ‘the possibility of endowing an abstract form with an almost vicious animation’.30 And in 2001 the art historian Steven A. Nash concurred that violence was embedded within the sculpture, proposing that it highlights ‘the turbulent side of his [Moore’s] imagination, generally suppressed in later years’.31
Alberto Giacometti 'Man and Woman' 1928–9
Alberto Giacometti
Man and Woman 1928–9
Centre George Pompidou, Paris
© D.R., Adagp, Paris, 2007
In 1980 Moore conceded that Three Points may have been informed by the work of some of his European contemporaries, but he did not identify specific works as direct sources. When asked by Calvocoressi ‘if the spiky forms’ of Three Points ‘with their aggressive and perhaps also phallic connotations, were derived from surrealist imagery – for example, the surrealist sculptures of Giacometti – Moore said that this was certainly one possible influence as Surrealism was very much in the air when he made the work’.32 Moore exhibited alongside Giacometti at the International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936, and met the artist the following year at Picasso’s studio. The art historian Eric Gibson has suggested that during the 1930s ‘Moore gradually absorbed and assimilated key aspects of Giacometti’s art and turned it to his own uses’.33 In particular, Gibson proposed that the ‘imminent threat and implicit violence’ found in Moore’s sculptures ‘would seem to come directly from Giacometti, specifically from works like Man and Woman’ (fig.10).34 He suggested that Moore’s Three Points has formal affinities with Giacometti’s sculpture of a thrusting, pointed spear penetrating a concave ellipse. However, while Giacometti’s work evokes sexual violence, for Gibson, Moore ‘moved beyond Giacometti to something broader and more universal. Yes, the central form of Three Points is decidedly phallic, but this sculpture isn’t about acting out a psychosexual drama. That aspect – if it is there at all – is subsumed to a dark and more general metaphor of forces in conflict’.35
Yipwon, Korewori River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
National Gallery of Australia
Although Gibson argued that Moore quelled sexual references in Three Points, Robert Melville’s characterisation of the sculpture as a ‘biomorphic femme fatale’ suggests that sexual connotations remained detectable.36 However, despite apparently sharing affinities with the female body, Melville proposed that the sexual aspects of the sculpture originated not from the Fontainebleau painting or from Giacometti, but rather from ‘certain New Guinea carvings of skeletal male figures where two sharp prongs curve round from the backbone like extra ribs, [to] guard a projecting penis’ (fig.11).37 It is not known how Melville came upon this object or whether Moore knew of its existence, but Moore, like many surrealist artists, did have a particular interest in Oceanic carvings.38 In 1984 Wilkinson agreed that Three Points does share affinities with ‘the “hook” figures, or Yipwons, from the Karwari region of New Guinea, in which the penis is “protected” above and below by two pointed, riblike forms’, continuing that ‘if the penis and arched forms were removed from the New Guinea carving and seen in isolation, they could almost be mistaken for Moore’s Three Points’.39 However, in 2001 Wilkinson conceded that ‘there is no documentary evidence to support my claim’ that Moore was directly influenced by the New Guinea carving, and concluded that ‘I am now inclined to believe that the affinities with the “hook” figures may be merely fortuitous’.40

The Henry Moore Gift

Three Points 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’.41 Three Points was exhibited in the Duveen Galleries in a wall mounted case alongside Reclining Figure 1939 (Tate T02269). The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.42 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’.43

Alice Correia
December 2013


[Judith Collins], ‘Henry Moore: Reclining Figure 1939’, in The Tate Gallery 1984–86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982–84, London 1988, p.539.
Ibid., p.539.
The other bronze cast from this edition is in the collection of the Kunsternes Hus, Oslo.
See David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, London 1957, no.
211. Henry Moore cited in Donald Carroll, The Donald Carroll Interviews, London 1973, p.42, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.235.
See Richard Calvocoressi, letter to Mrs Tinsley, 31 December 1980, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23946. In a letter to Calvocoressi held in the Tate Archive, Moore’s secretary, Mrs Tinsley, referred to the 1958 casts as ‘the Marlborough edition’. See Mrs Tinsley, letter to Richard Calvocoressi, 2 February 1981, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23946.
Richard Calvocoressi, ‘T.2269 Three Points’, in The Tate Gallery 1978–80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, p.117.
Richard Calvocoressi, letter to Mrs Tinsley, 4 February 1981, Tate Conservation Records, Henry Moore T02269.
Henry Moore cited in Gemma Levine, With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work, London 1978, pp.28–9.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of His Life and Work, London 1965, p.125.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, p.36.
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1969, London 1970, p.21.
Ibid., p.21.
Ibid., p.21.
Ibid., p.20.
Calvocoressi, ‘T.2269 Three Points’, 1981, p.117.
Alan G. Wilkinson, The Moore Collection in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1979, p.204.
Henry Moore and David Sylvester, ‘The Michelangelo Vision’, Sunday Times Magazine, 16 February 1964, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.157.
Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 2: Complete Drawings 1930–38, London 1998, p.207.
Sylvester 1968, p.36.
Wilkinson 1979, p.204.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Henry Moore’ in William Rubin (ed.), Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1984, vol.2, p.607.
Sylvester 1968, p.36.
Henry Moore, ‘Interview with Elizabeth Blunt’, Kaleidoscope, radio programme, broadcast BBC Radio 4, 9 April 1973, transcript printed in Wilkinson 2002, p.167.
Christopher Green, ‘Henry Moore and Picasso’ in James Beechy and Chris Stephens (eds.), Picasso and Modern British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2012, p.149.
Kenneth Clark, Another Part of the Wood, New York 1974, p.256.
Read 1965, p.125.
Steven A. Nash, ‘Moore and Surrealism Reconsidered’, in Dorothy Kosinski (ed.), Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century, exhibition catalogue, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas 2001, p.50.
Calvocoressi, ‘T.2269 Three Points’, 1981, p.117. See also Michel Remy, Surrealism in Britain, Aldershot 1999, p.180.
Eric Gibson, ‘Moore and Giacometti’, New Criterion, vol.26, no.4, December 2007, p.19.
Ibid., p.21.
Ibid., p.22.
Melville 1970, p.21.
Ibid., p.20.
See Anna Gruetzner Robins, ‘The Surrealist Object and Surrealist Sculpture’, in Sandy Nairne and Nicholas Serota (eds.), British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1981, p.120.
Wilkinson 1984, p.607.
Alan Wilkinson, ‘Moore: A Modernist’s “Primitivism”’ in Kosinski 2001, pp.38–9.
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.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Three Points 1939–40, cast before 1949 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, December 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-points-r1151463, accessed 19 April 2024.