Henry Moore and Concrete: Cast, Carved, Coloured and Reinforced
Made around six months later, Moore’s second cast concrete work was also a female head (fig.2). In 1925 Moore had spent six months in Italy on a travelling scholarship, visiting Florence, Siena, Assisi, Ravenna and Padua among other places, to look at Renaissance works of art, even though he had already become passionately interested in Sumerian, Egyptian and Pre-Columbian art. The two Italian artists who most impressed him were the painters Giotto and Masaccio. In a letter he described Giotto’s painting as ‘the finest sculpture I met in Italy’, while he was enthralled by the grandeur and simplicity of the figures in Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci chapel in the Carmelite church in Florence.7 Head of a Woman has much in common with the figures of both painters, although the long nose and small lips are also reminiscent of carved limestone heads of the modern Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani (one, made in 1911–12, was presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1922). Moore’s sculpture was also one of the earliest of his heads to have what the critic David Sylvester called Moore’s ‘cubic bun’, at the back or side of the head.8 A page in Moore’s sketchbooks, datable to 1925–6, shows seemingly related images of four heads, with buns.9 This sculpture is set on a wooden base, making it unique among his concrete works. It is worth noting that his remaining nineteen concrete works are set on integral bases.
The small work Mask 1927 (fig.4) was the second mask Moore made. Like his first, carved from Verde di Prato stone in 1924, this one was inspired by Mexican stone masks in the British Museum. He gave it an open mouth, as though singing or speaking. Leon Underwood (1890–1975), painter, sculptor, printmaker and writer, bought this mask from Moore. Underwood was a tutor at the Royal College of Art when Moore was a student there, and Moore described him as the only person there who taught him anything.
21 In this work Moore created ‘bumps and hollows’ by building them up from wet concrete, and then shaping and smoothing them. It is his most distorted rendering of a human head, which is made more extreme by the addition of two or three different coloured pigments – red and greys – to the concrete mixture. Moore did not stir these pigments together to amalgamate them. He intended to keep them separate and their configuration random, like the mottled colours often found in stone and wood. In his 1944 Penguin book on the sculptor the poet Geoffrey Grigson commented that Moore’s interest in colour in his work was fed ‘from his appetite for the colours in nature, the lichen on the grey rock, the coloured texture of weather-worn stone, the fiery black and red of igneous formations or burning coal ... Moore’s colour ... is a free, personal, expressive colour’.22
It seems again that a nodule of flint served as the head and shoulders of Reclining Figure 1932 (fig.18). The work was bought at some point by American collector Joseph Hirshhorn, who acquired his first sculpture by Moore in 1945, and by the 1970s owned fifty-one pieces by the artist. This piece and the previous work are numbered 120a and 120b in Moore’s catalogue raisonné and thus appear to have been inserted into the numbering sequence at a late stage, possibly indicating that Moore had some doubts about whether to include them in the official catalogue of his work.
The last work Moore made from concrete, Four-Piece Composition 1934 (fig.21), seems to have been made largely from cement (there is little evidence of aggregate). The title simply enumerates its elements but the work can still be read as a figure of sorts. The multi-part and horizontal nature suggests the influence of the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), newly part of the surrealist movement in Paris, but the piece has little or nothing of the sense of violence found in the latter’s work. Moore’s composition looks more like an assemblage of found natural objects, bones and pebbles. He was breaking up the human body into parts so that it could be explored from every angle. There is little sense of dislocation; rather there is a sense of positive enquiry. The pierced disc brings to mind the Mên-an-Tol prehistoric stone monument in Cornwall (fig.22) that was so influential for Barbara Hepworth and her work.
How to cite
Judith Collins, ‘Henry Moore and Concrete: Cast, Carved, Coloured and Reinforced’, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www