Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966

Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966 was carved in Italy from a single block of marble and was donated by Moore to Tate in 1970 in memory of his friend, the critic Herbert Read. The sculpture’s dynamic, sharp-edged forms are illustrative of Moore’s re-engagement with abstraction in the 1960s.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Upright Form: Knife Edge
Portuguese Rosa Aurora marble
660 x 585 x 410 mm
Presented by the artist 1970


Henry Moore 'Upright Form: Knife Edge' 1966
Henry Moore
Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966
Tate T01172
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Upright Form: Knife Edge is an abstract sculpture carved from Portuguese Rosa Aurora marble, which is pale pink in colour. The sculpture is mounted on a square base of the same material, from which it rises vertically (fig.1). A sharp pointed central spine extends upwards and outwards from the elliptical footprint at the bottom before curving inwards to a fine point at the top. Projecting laterally from either side of this vertical axis are two spurs. One appears to rise outwards from near the base and has a rounded, diagonal underside and an almost horizontal upper surface. The spur on the other side is more cylindrical in form and has an upper side that points at a downward diagonal from the apex and a shorter, near-horizontal underside. While the upwards pointing spur terminates in a curved point, the other appears truncated and ends abruptly in a flat oval face. The sculpture is not positioned centrally on the base and both of the extending spurs project beyond the width of the base below.
Detail of foot of Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966
Tate T01172
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The sculpture slots onto a metal pole that runs up through the base. This rod is bent slightly so the sculpture does not sit flush on the base (fig.2). The front edge is slightly raised and there are circular scratches on the upper surface of the base. These suggest that the sculpture has swivelled or rotated, abrading the surface beneath.

Making Upright Form: Knife Edge

Henry Moore 'Upright Form: Knife Edge' 1966
Henry Moore
Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Alice Correia
Before carving this sculpture in marble Moore first modelled its design in white clay. The small-scale maquette for Upright Form: Knife Edge was made in 1966 in the maquette studio on the grounds of his home, Hoglands, in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, and remains in the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation (fig.3). This studio was lined with shelves displaying Moore’s ever growing collection of found bones, shells and flint stones, the shapes of which often served as starting points for Moore’s formal experiments in three dimensions.
Upright Form: Knife Edge was carved in the summer of 1966 while Moore was staying at his holiday home in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. Moore purchased the property the previous year and spent two or three months there every summer until the mid-1970s. Forte dei Marmi is in northern Tuscany near the Carrara mountains, which are
famous for being a rich source of marble. Moore’s cottage was conveniently located near the Société S. Henraux quarry at Querceta, where he had worked during the winter of 1957–8 carving the full-size Unesco Reclining Figure in travertine marble (see Tate T00390). This commission had reinvigorated Moore’s interest in stone carving after a period working in plaster for bronze casting. According to the former Tate curator Michael Compton, Moore wandered around the Société S. Henraux stone yard where he found a piece of Rosa Aurora marble imported from Portugal, and it was from this block that Upright Form: Knife Edge was carved.1
Henry Moore 'Upright Form: Knife Edge' 1966
Henry Moore
Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
After the Rosa Aurora sculpture had been completed another version of Upright Form: Knife Edge was carved in white marble (fig.4). This second sculpture was also carved in 1966 at Forte dei Marmi and constitutes the only occasion where Moore made two versions of the same sculptural composition in stone. In 1970 Compton recorded a conversation with Moore in which the artist had explained that while working on the Rosa Aurora sculpture he ‘realised that the translucency of the stone was softening the effect of the knife edge, so he decided to do it again exactly the same but in opaque white marble to see how it would affect the problem’.2 Moore exhibited and sold the white version, which was later bequeathed to the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2007 this work was de-accessioned and sold at Christie’s auction house in New York. It is now believed to be in a private collection.3

Oppositional forces

Upright Form: Knife Edge and its white counterpart are two of four ‘knife edge’ abstract sculptures made by Moore during the 1960s (see also Working Model for Knife Edge Two-Piece 1962, Tate T00603). In 1968 the critic and curator David Sylvester identified Upright Form: Knife Edge as belonging to a group of sculptures in which Moore explored the interplay between ‘hard and soft’ forms.4 Sylvester argued that this interest represented a new development in Moore’s work, and was the direct result of the artist’s earlier decision to make sculptures out of plaster that could then be cast in bronze. Moore found that plaster was a malleable and flexible material from which hard and fine forms could be articulated. According to Sylvester, Moore then transferred his knowledge of the aesthetic potential of plaster to his marble sculptures, although he noted that the ‘soft’ qualities of the Rosa Aurora marble undermined the sharpness of the vertical edge of Upright Form: Knife Edge.5
For Sylvester the development of contrasting hard and soft forms ‘represented a radically new way of thinking for Moore’, one that emphasised dynamic rather than static qualities.6 To support this interpretation, Sylvester cited Moore at length:
This is, perhaps, what makes me interested in bones as much as flesh, because the bone is the inner structure of all living form. It’s the bone that pushes out from the inside; as you bend your leg the knee gets tautness over it, and it’s there that the movement and energy come from. If you clench a knuckle, you clench a fist, you get in that sense the bones, the knuckles, pushing through, giving a force that, if you open your hand and just have it relaxed, you don’t feel. And so the knee, the shoulder, the skull, the forehead, the part where from inside you get a sense of pressure of the bone outwards – these for me are the key points.7
For Sylvester, it was the contrast between the sense of movement and the stillness of sculptures such as Upright Form: Knife Edge that illustrated the evolution of Moore’s artistic thinking. However, these may not have been entirely new concerns for Moore, whose statements from the 1930s, when he was preoccupied with direct carving, express a similar interest in oppositional forces. Indeed, an essay written for the publication Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture in 1934 may also account for the tension between static and dynamic forms in Upright Form: Knife Edge:
When the sculptor understands his material, has a knowledge of its possibilities and its constructive build, it is possible to keep within its limitations and yet turn an inert block into a composition which has a full form-existence, with masses of varied size and section conceived in their air-surrounded entirety, stressing and straining, thrusting and opposing each other in spatial relationship – being static, in the sense that the centre of gravity lies within the base (and does not seem to be falling over or moving off its base) – and yet having an alert dynamic tension between its parts.8
The fact that Moore chose to present Upright Form: Knife Edge to Tate in memory of his friend, the critic Herbert Read, serves to support the connections between this work and Moore’s artistic preoccupations of the 1930s, for it was during that decade that their friendship was closest. Read edited Unit One and described Moore’s statement as ‘excellent + I don’t want you to add to it or alter it in any way’.9 The longevity of their friendship and the convictions they shared led Moore to believe that Read would have approved of the forms and materials of Upright Form: Knife Edge.10

In memory of Herbert Read

From 1965 until his death in 1968 Read had sat on the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery, the first professional art historian to do so. Following his death, and with the desire to recognise Read’s unique contribution to the development and promotion of British art, Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo and Ben Nicholson agreed to donate works to Tate in his memory.11 Moore had not previously exhibited the Rosa Aurora version of Upright Form: Knife Edge and for several years it sat on a table in the artist’s living room at Hoglands.
Installation view of The Henry Moore Gift, Tate Gallery June–August 1978
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The sculpture was included in the Tate’s exhibition celebrating Moore’s eightieth birthday in 1978, which also served to showcase the Henry Moore Gift, which comprised thirty-six other sculptures donated to the gallery by the artist. The accompanying press release announced that ‘The group [of sculptures] is the most substantial gift of works ever given to the Tate by an artist during his lifetime’.12 Upright Form: Knife Edge was exhibited in gallery eighteen alongside Working Model for Three Way Piece No.2: Archer (Tate T02299) and Working Model for Three Way Piece No.1: Points 1964 (Tate T02298; fig.5). At the close of the exhibition in late August 1978, Tate’s director 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’.13 In 1980 the sculpture was put on display in the Director’s Dining Room where it would have been seen by visiting curators, patrons and gallery supporters. In 2013 it was included in a display examining Moore’s relationship with Tate in new galleries dedicated to Moore’s work.14

Alice Correia
March 2014


See [Michael Compton], ‘Henry Moore, Upright Form (Knife Edge) 1966’, in The Tate Gallery 1968–70, London 1970, p.94. The critic John Russell noted in 1968 that at Henraux, ‘an abundance of fine stone is constantly to hand, and Henraux’s often import exotic rarities in the way of business’. See John Russell, Henry Moore, London 1968, p.209.
See [Compton] 1970, p.95.
See Lot 497, Sale 1901, Impressionist And Modern Art Day Sale, Christie’s, New York, 7 November 2007, http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/LotDetailsPrintable.aspx?intObjectID=4984010, accessed 18 March 2014.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, pp.127–8.
Ibid., p.128.
Henry Moore cited in ibid., p.128.
Henry Moore, ‘Statement for Unit One’, in Herbert Read (ed.), Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture, London 1934, pp.29–30, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, pp.191–2.
Herbert Read, letter to Henry Moore, 4 January 1934, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
See [Compton] 1970, p.95.
Other donated works were Barbara Hepworth’s Figure (Nyanga) 1959–60 (Tate T01112), Naum Gabo’s Linear Construction No.2 1970–1 (Tate T01105), and Ben Nicholson’s March 63 (artemission) 1963 (Tate T01118).
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, ‘Upright Form: Knife Edge 1966 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-upright-form-knife-edge-r1172006, accessed 20 April 2024.