Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Erich Neumann on Henry Moore: Public Sculpture and the Collective Unconscious

Tim Martin

The psychoanalyst Erich Neumann applied Carl Jung’s concepts about the unconscious mind in his book on Moore’s sculpture, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore (1959), in which he described the artist’s imagination as essentially feminine. Although original and for a period influential, Neumann’s ideas about sculpture remain today largely unexamined.
Erich Neumann at the Eranos Foundation, Switzerland 1948
The psychoanalytically informed nature of many of the concepts we use today to discuss the aesthetics and function of sculpture can be traced back to early and mid-twentieth century critical debates that, inevitably given his stature, coalesced in some measure around the work of Henry Moore. From the 1930s to the 1980s his sculptures were the subject of discussion by a number of critics who, reflecting a widespread fascination with such matters, took an active interest in psychoanalysis and its application to art. These included such well-known figures as George Wingfield Digby, Herbert Read, Adrian Stokes, David Sylvester and Peter Fuller. Of all such writers, however, the Israeli psychoanalyst Erich Neumann (1905–1960) provided perhaps the most thoroughgoing application of psychoanalytic concepts to Moore’s work. In his lavishly illustrated book The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, published in 1959, Neumann (fig.1) hailed Moore as a paragon of healthy modern psychical development and as an artist who deserved the worldwide adulation he was receiving at the time. According to Neumann, Moore was remarkable for being in touch with his ‘anima’, the feminine side of his unconscious, and for heralding a new age based on a collective archetype he called the ‘Great Mother’. Of Moore’s psychoanalytically influenced critics Neumann was the most extensive in his claims and yet he never met Moore. Read, Stokes and Sylvester knew Moore and shared a circle of friends centred on the London art world; by contrast, Neumann’s views on the artist were inspired by the writings of the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875–1961).
Despite being one of Jung’s most gifted students, Neumann is a figure whose history is relatively little known, particularly in art historical circles. This essay seeks to contextualise Neumann’s views on Moore’s work in relation to his earlier writings on art and the unconscious, and it traces his subsequent connections with the British art world through Herbert Read. It then examines Neumann’s book in detail, recording the responses to it by Moore and critics of the period, as well as more recent authors. In conclusion, it reviews Neumann’s basic understanding of sculpture and examines how it was adapted and modified by sculptors in the 1960s and 1970s in ways that demystified some of its more romantic claims.

Erich Neumann and Carl Jung

Seven years younger than Henry Moore, Erich Neumann was born in Berlin in 1905 into a non-practicing Jewish family. He attended university in Nuremberg, studying philosophy and psychology, including the work of Freud and Jung. Neumann went on to study medicine in Berlin but on completion of his studies was denied an internship because of the race laws introduced by the Nazi government.1 Neumann spent time writing poetry and a novel, and developed his understanding of contemporary art and literature, notably the novels of Franz Kafka. Married and with Nazis policing the streets of Berlin, Neumann decided in 1933 to emigrate to Palestine. However, he travelled first to Zürich where he met Jung, the founder of what was called analytic psychology (which was distinct from the school of psychoanalysis established by Freud). Neumann was twenty-eight years old, and Jung was thirty years his senior. Neumann decided to stay in Zürich and enter analysis with Jung, while his wife Julia entered analysis with Jung’s wife Emma.
In Zürich the Neumanns studied Jung’s descriptions of the unconscious as a field of autonomous patterns of thought and images, or ‘archetypes’. Variously framed by individuals and their cultures, archetypes included, for example, the figures of the great mother and the great father, events such as birth and death, and motifs such as the flood or the apocalypse. In search of evidence to support his theories, Jung trawled freely through a wide range of ethnographic and historical records, including Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890), the ancient Chinese text I Ching and the esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah. In these he found what he described as remarkable consistencies in human culture due to the commonality of human instincts and received experience. Jungian therapy involved identifying a person’s archetypes and helping them emerge through a process of transformation, maturation and unification in the ‘self’ archetype, the inner godhead.
After nearly a year of Jungian analysis and study, Erich and Julia Neumann qualified as analysts. But he disagreed with his mentor on two topics: the best way to resist anti-semitism and the value of modern art. In 1932 Jung had criticised the work of Picasso, writing:
It is the ugly, the sick, the grotesque, the incomprehensible, the banal that are sought out – not for the purpose of expressing anything, but only in order to obscure; an obscurity, however, which has nothing to conceal, but spreads like a cold fog over desolate moors; the whole thing quite pointless, like a spectacle that can do without a spectator.
He had continued by condemning
the man in him [Picasso] who does not turn towards the day-world, but is fatefully drawn into the dark; who follows not the accepted ideals of goodness and beauty, but the demoniacal attraction of ugliness and evil. It is these antichristian and Luciferian forces that well up in modern man and engender an all-pervading sense of doom, veiling the bright world of day with the mists of Hades, infecting it with deadly decay, and finally, like an earthquake, dissolving it into fragments, fractures, discarded remnants, debris, shreds, and disorganised units.2
Perhaps under Neumann’s influence, Jung backpeddled in a later version of the essay in 1934, the year Newmann finally emigrated to Palestine, but the damage was done.3 To Neumann’s dismay, Jung’s comments were used to tar modern art with the brush of psychosis.4 In 1937 – the year Neumann, then running a busy practice in Tel Aviv, heard that his father had been beaten to death by the Nazis – the German government organised an exhibition called Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), which sought to demonstrate that avant-garde art was a product of sick minds and an unhealthy culture. During the war years Neumann developed independent theories while maintaining a regular correspondence and close intellectual rapport with Jung.
Published in 1948, Neumann’s first book, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic marked the beginning of his longstanding interest in ethical matters. Mindful of the lessons of fascism and the war, he argued that the individual can combat collective evil but, for this to happen, the ego must give up its pretensions of innocence and facile victim psychology and recognise its ‘shadow’ evil side. In particular, the book warned of the dangers of projecting an inner unconscious evil onto others. Contemporary utopian ideologies (Nazism, communism or Zionism) promised an ultimate good but in pursuit of this good projected evil onto others (Jews, capitalists or Arabs) and sanctioned horrible crimes. Newman, by contrast, called for new ethics that would accept and explore the darker side of human beings and then seek to unify the good and the bad aspects of the psyche. Jungians in Zürich and London criticised the book but Jung himself invited Neumann to speak at the annual Eranos lectures, held in the Swiss town of Ascona. (Eranos is a Greek word for an un-hosted, egalitarian banquet to which every guest brings a different contribution.) The series brought together speakers on psychology, philosophy, mythology, comparative religion and science, and papers were published in the Eranos Jahrbuch.5
Neumann followed his Eranos debut with a book that attempted no less than the history of man’s psychological development. The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949) suggested that the consciousness of individuals and of the collective developed in parallel. Drawing on a range of myths, Neumann found that most cultures produced a succession of archetypes intended gradually to enhance individual self-awareness and maturity. Cultures also developed psychologically, evolving from a collective tribal maternal archetype to a paternal archetype, embodied in a prophet. This archetype eventually became repressive and was replaced by a higher and more modern archetype based on individual responsibility.
Jung greatly approved of his colleague’s attempt to explain the evolutionary significance and relationship of different archetypes, and after his retirement in 1951, Neumann became the leading figure of the Eranos group, speaking at every conference from 1950 to 1960.6 Neumann became interested in how past historical archetypes might be understood and used to encourage modern individual and collective maturation. His 1953 paper ‘The Importance of Earth Archetypes for Modern Times’ examined the changing meanings of the Earth archetype from the middle ages onwards.7 Neumann concluded that the recent re-emergence of the Earth archetype, an image of one’s bond with the land, was crucial to the religious sentiments of modern man. He noticed, for example, how his own growing love of the Palestinian desert had matured his Zionist convictions. Neumann later used ideas from this paper in his book on Henry Moore but even more important ideas emerged in his next and most ambitious book,
The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (1955).
Diagram in Erich Neumann's The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (1955)
Richly illustrated with hundreds of photographs and drawings taken from the ethnographic collection of the Eranos archivist Olga Frobe-Kapteyn, this study compared Neolithic, Egyptian, Greek, Medieval and Renaissance myths and images of the feminine. For Neumann the archetype of the feminine and the Great Mother were elemental images arising from the unconscious, signalling, positively, release and growth, inspiration and wisdom, and, negatively, retention and devouring, or expulsion and rejection, as charted in a diagram (fig.2).8 Although the great mother was a dangerously dual figure, Neumann argued that western monotheist cultures needed to rediscover this archetype to counterbalance the dominant patriarchal consciousness that, left unchecked, could descend into a brutal masculine ethos, as seen in Hitler’s Germany. Briefly he mentioned Moore as an example of a contemporary artist who invoked the mother and child archetype in his sculptures.
Neumann’s book on the great mother was well received at Eranos and, in 1957, when Neumann and Jung determined the theme of ‘man and sense’ for the next year’s annual conference, they chose as a speaker a figure familiar to both of them, the English art critic Herbert Read. Read was broadly familiar with most psychologies of art and while collecting and analysing research on children’s drawings in the 1940s had been struck by the extent to which they conformed to Jung’s concept of the archetypes: the images in such drawings, Read believed, gave imaginary form to deep seated instinctual drives as they developed from infancy to adulthood. After meetings with Jung, Read was appointed editor of the English edition of Jung’s Collected Works and, on Jung’s recommendation, Read also helped publish Neumann’s two books. Neumann and Read were not acquainted until 1957 but both were deeply interested in parallels between individual development and collective evolution. Read’s Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness (1955), for example, traced the admittedly limited similarities between the developmental stages of children’s art and those of Neolithic art.9 Animal archetypes, he suggested, arose from a combination of visual memory and vital instinctual interests, and images of hunted animals (as found in the caves of Lascaux, for example) were the objects of collective projected wishes and repositories of shared dramatic experiences.10 Read used the history of art to understand the development of the human mind and culture while Neumann used the history of art to tell a history of man’s ethical, intellectual and spiritual development. This difference was particularly evident in their respective contributions to the 1957 Eranos lectures, where Read spoke of ‘The Creative Nature of Humanism’ whereas Neumann spoke of ‘The Question of Meaning and the Individual’. Both also spoke at the 1958 conference on the theme of ‘man and peace’, which examined how Jungian analytic psychology might be used to reconcile current social and political tensions (fig.3). From this conference Read published the paper ‘The Flower of Peace’ and Neumann ‘Peace as a Symbol of Life’, an article that compared an individual’s search for tranquillity with a collective search for peace between collectives.
Herbert Read (centre left) at the Eranos conference in 1958

At one or the other of these gatherings Read may have suggested that Neumann develop his views on Henry Moore as a book.11 Wherever it came from, the idea certainly fitted well with another book Neumann was then working on called Art and the Creative Unconscious. Published in 1959, this collection of four essays examined the works of the Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci, the German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the painter Marc Chagall. Each, Neumann argued, was caught up in a universal archetypal human conflict that was played out and resolved using the particular belief systems of the subject’s cultural context. The first and longest chapter, ‘Leonardo da Vinci and the Mother Archetype’, argued that the genius of many a great male artist lay in giving expression to the anima or feminine side of their unconscious selves through the available artistic forms and conventions of their time. Neumann identified two kinds of artist, mother-oriented and father-oriented, finding that the, ‘creative man is very largely fixated in the matriarchal stage of the psyche.’12 ‘By his very nature he remains in high degree bisexual, and the retained feminine component is manifested by his increased ‘receptivity’, by his sensibility and a greater emphasis in his life on the ‘matriarchal consciousness’.’13 Neumann was also interested in female creativity and, with his wife Julia, developed a substantial thesis about women’s masculine unconscious ‘animus’.14

The Archetypal World of Henry Moore (1959)

Neumann started his book on Moore by stating that he viewed an artwork as less a product of an individual artist than an expression of the Zeitgeist or spirit of the age. Every culture, he wrote, had a canon of conscious beliefs and values and a set of underlying and generally unconscious assumptions, expressed as ideals, gods, demonic powers and superstitions (‘in every culture and every age we find without exception that its cultural canon is determined by unconscious images, symbols and archetypes’).15 Cultures repressed aspects of human instincts and suffered their often dramatic and unwelcome return to consciousness through the agency of scapegoats, heretics, revolutionaries and artists.
Neumann then introduced Jung’s concept of the ‘archetype’, observing that there were many such emblematic images and that an artist might choose one or many of them. What mattered was the depth of the artist’s engagement and whether he or she could give it a form that resonated with the collective instincts of his or her peers. This resonance came less from the identity of the object selected by the artist (a landscape, an ox, a beggar) than from how it was represented. This distinction between content and form allowed Neumann to introduce the move to abstract form in modern art. Abstraction for Neumann sprang from a largely unconscious wish among avant-garde artists to explore the unconscious, a desire to ‘seek out and give shape to the primordial image as opposed to the delusory phenomenal image’.16 Through abstraction modern art sought to explore the visual imaginary of the unconscious. It was not, pace Jung, an outbreak of psychosis.
With these concepts in place Neumann turned to Moore. He read the Yorkshireman’s female figures as expressions of archetypes of the ‘primordial feminine’ and the ‘Great Mother’. This rehearsed ideas found in his earlier book but what was new was Neumann’s claim that Moore was neither an introvert nor an extrovert but a ‘centrovert’. Moore found the feminine archetype in both an inner world of fantasy and an outer world of stone and wood.
The first archetype to appear in Moore’s early work was an earth mother (more a matter of form-giving than symbolisation or allegory). Moore’s unconscious was essentially feminine and gave rise to forms that, like a newborn’s haptic experience of the mother, were found through touching sculptural material. The materials enveloped him, and his ego was receptive to a force within him and in nature (nature expressed ‘herself in him and through him in her role of natural sculptor of created things.’)17 Moore was likened to a child nourished by the ‘creative principle’ of his feminine unconscious and, in turn, he, like a mother with a child, identified with his work.
Henry Moore 'Mother and Child' 1936
Henry Moore
Mother and Child 1936
British Council collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore developed his sculptural forms, Neumann noted, over periods of time, starting off with representational subjects that became increasingly abstract and disjointed. Abstraction allowed him to dispense with the canons of western sculpture and to grasp ‘the basic plastic character of the object in its essence’.18 Moore’s feeling for the forms of archaic art provided him with a second route into the ‘numinous’ realm of archetypes. To illustrate his points Neumann selected Moore’s Mother and Child 1936 (fig.4), a particularly abstract stringed sculpture, admiring the simple and powerful way in which mother and child arose out of the same material. He then compared this with a mother and child sculpture from the Bronze Age in which both figures were similarly part of a single substance. In his examination of Moore’s early work Neumann was not concerned, for example, with the differences between bas relief and sculpture in the round, or carving and modelling, but with the way form and content come together to evoke the unconscious.
Having explored abstraction in the interwar years, Moore chose to place his works increasingly in the landscape. Neumann read this, too, through his theory of centroversion, emphasising how Moore sought both an inner psychical life and outer reality. Moore’s work was deeply archaic, Neumann wrote, in the way it went about this centring: he caught his essential projections, his inner beliefs, his hopes and fears about the landscape and its underlying reality. Seen in the landscape, Moore’s sculptures encouraged spectators to animate the landscape with their own unconscious archetypes and in this way a Moore sculpture became a site of collective projection. Moore’s sited works affected the spectator, Neumann claimed, because they took the spectator back to a point in psychical development where centroversion began. They reactivated in the spectator a childhood capacity for ‘participation mystique’.19
As Neumann defined it, participation mystique took spectators beyond their projections to a plane where the boundary between subject and object was blurred or even void. The adult ego felt uncomfortable there but was able to adjust to it because this was the plane of empathy between mother and child. Neumann loved Moore’s work because, when sited in the landscape, it evoked this participation mystique as an existential ‘here and now’ reality. Moore’s larger-than-life reclining nudes made the spectator feel like a son or daughter of the great goddess, a feeling that Neumann wanted to become the basis for all human relationships. Neumann claimed that, through Moore, ‘Today a new shift of values is beginning, and with the gradual decay of the patriarchal canon we can discern a new emergence of the matriarchal world in the consciousness of Western man.’20
Neumann interrupted his thesis to dispute David Sylvester’s view that the deepest meaning of Moore’s work laid in its sexual symbolism.21 The arches, holes and caves in his reclining women were not a veiled sexual reference, according to Neumann. Sylvester as well as Herbert Read were wrong to find in Moore’s work a personal childhood sexual obsession, a repetition compulsion, or a point to which he regressed. Moore’s work was not a pathological regression; it gave form to an absent feminine principle. Moore not only gave society a glimpse of its own psychical landscape but also gave new form to this transpersonal unconscious. He was captivated by the mysteries of the Great Mother archetype, which was not the same thing as an infantile sexual curiosity. ‘Being contained in something maternal that is greater than oneself, and emerging from it regenerated, are genuine psychic emotions felt by everyone who ... is transformed by this experience of mystery.’22 The hole in Moore’s sculptures was not uncanny, sombre or menacing, but it did create a hierarchy of magnitudes; the subject was small, dependant and attached. Moore’s sculptures of reclining women were not sexual or based on unresolved Oedipal issues. They were mystical in the sense that they were in touch with a psychologically archaic state that pre-existed the ego and were part primitive, part child-like. In this state the spectator explored a world presided over by a great principle of form-giving. Earth and maternal body were blurred into a unitary condition, drawing the spectator to participate in something akin to a modern cult of the feminine mysteries.
After these reclining women Moore began to represent pregnancy and birth. Moore evoked a unitary world of mother and child, where, Neumann wrote, ‘Everything is connected with everything and acts on everything; there was no inside that does not appear as outside and as acting on the world, no aspect of the world that was not charged with psyche and psychically connected.’23 This unitary world changed depending on the culture. Medieval consciousness was spiritual and so its unconscious was full of the colour of earthly reality (Giotto and Leonardo). Moore’s society was consciously technological and so its ‘unitary world shows a terrifying, daemonic, and archaic face of which the godless world of consciousness knows nothing.’24 To a technological patriarchal society, Moore’s sculptures were ‘an invasion from another dimension of being’. Moore’s mother and child theme not only marked the birth of consciousness out of the maternal earth but also dramatised the birth of a new era in the modern unconscious, a counterpart to its technological consciousness.
Through the 1930s and 1940s Moore explored many sides of the great mother archetype and, in telling the story of this development, Neumann presented something of a personal psychoanalysis of Moore, despite his reservations about Freudian theories. Moore’s surrealist works of the 1930s were a descent into a kind of hell where he struggled to free himself from a claustrophobic presence of the maternal. Drawing on his earlier book, Neumann saw a split in Moore’s treatment of the maternal archetype in which a nurturing guardian protectress turned into a deathly mother of graves and the underworld. ‘Two manifestations of the Great Goddess now begin to appear side by side and in opposition to one another.’25 This change was greatly influenced by his experiences of the Blitz. In the 1940s and early the 1950s, however, the archetype no longer exercised the same power and Moore emerged from this period with greater integration and individuation. Here Moore’s development was made to conform closely to the model of mental development advocated in Jung’s Symbols of Transformation (1952), which prescribed a journey of introversion leading to a discovering inner archetypal conflicts which are then played out and resolved.
Henry Moore ''Three Standing Figures'' 1947
Henry Moore
Three Standing Figures 1947
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Neumann identified further stages in Moore’s development after the war in which the two archetypes become reconciled. His sculpture Three Standing Figures 1947 (fig.5) was seen to transcend the duality of the maternal archetype: ‘In them life and death are transcended, and out of these opposites they produce a third which – be it called Fate or Meaning – arises from the interplay of black and white, life and death, past and future, as a fulfilment of the present, a higher reality of being.’26 ‘Here the spiritual core of the feminine archetype has been reached and shaped in stone.’27 In the 1950s Moore’s series of Helmet Heads were seen as a response to a profoundly modern sense of anxiety induced by the annihilation scenarios of the Holocaust and the Cold War. As Neumann remarked, ‘The inhuman ruthlessness of technological science and of the warfare that is its identical twin stares out of this helmet.’ These sculptures were ‘connected with the anxiety of modern man’ of ‘being cut to pieces by shell splinters, roasted alive by atom bombs, or reduced to a mass of suppuration by radioactive fallout.’28
Henry Moore 'Reclining Figure (Internal and External Forms)' 1951
Henry Moore
Reclining Figure (Internal and External Forms) 1951
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Moore’s work reached its peak, according to Neumann, with his hollowed out Reclining Figure (Internal and External Forms) 1953 (fig.6) in which the artist found a language for expressing a global collective unconscious. His journey of transformation had led to reach a starting point for a ‘new age’ of man: ‘He also saw that art is the assertion and manifestation of the universally human, and that experience of this is the first step toward the conscious realisation of a unitary culture beyond race, nation, and time. He has glimpsed the oneness of the creative transpersonal powers in humanity itself.’29
This was Neumann at his most appreciative of Moore’s work and Moore as an individual. Moore had made a fateful existential choice. The subject can be an ego, treating others instrumentally. Or it can be a self, meeting others in a divine context as free and independent beings. Moore had chosen to stand between these two positions as a truly modern subject who was able to find a centre ground. Moore’s centroversion allowed him to be aware of more than his inner archetypal life; he was aware of an inner being. He experienced this being as a creatively formative power that was alive in himself. As an ego he was part of this power, and as a unitary self he was this ‘oneness of the creative transpersonal powers in humanity itself’. Moore was admirable for an ethical courage, a determination to use his creative energy to bestow meaningfulness on individual and collective life. His hollow reclining figures provided a way for modern man to be in touch with the vital creative force of nature itself. ‘Centroverted’ sculpture produced a moment in which the spectator felt himself or herself as a part of a greater destiny.
Neumann’s book made some big claims for Moore’s work but he did not have a chance to defend them or even to meet the artist. Neumann died of natural causes in 1960, at the age of fifty-give, only a few months after its publication. At the time of his death he was working on a greater understanding of the mother and child relationship as a constant process of crisis and creative renewal that became the psychical basis of adult creativity. He was moving, it would seem, in the direction of Adrian Stokes.30
Neumann’s conclusion is worth comparing to Jung’s revised views on modern art in Psyche and Symbol (1958), in which he argued that the main challenge facing artists in the post-war period was the discovery of an archetype that synthesised Christ and Hitler, the divine and demonic forces of the unconscious, into a new image of the god within.31 In this context Neumann’s book claimed to find this artist and this archetype. From the experience of the war Moore created a synthetic unity suitable for use as a modern image of the deity. It was not a synthesis of two opposing male archetypes of good and evil, but a synthesis of female archetypes. Compared to Jung, Neumann had an unconventional understanding of archetypes, art and ethics, views that Read seems to have understood better than Jung. Before turning to this, it is important to gauge Moore’s rather guarded reaction to this book.

Moore’s response to Neumann

Beyond common courtesy, it is hard to fathom Neumann’s reasons for sending his book to Moore. It was an approving but unsolicited analysis and, clinically speaking, sharing it with Moore put Moore at risk. Knowing that Moore had already received the book directly from the publisher, Neumann wrote to Moore on 8 July 1959, asking, ‘Would you let me know at which points and in which direction you do not agree with my analysis?’ Neumann planned to come to England the following year and requested a chance to ‘make your personal acquaintance’. He added that if writing was too burdensome, ‘you perhaps might entrust Sir Herbert with some remarks for me.’32 Moore seems not to have written back, but there is some evidence of what he made of this analysis. Moore was quite aware of psychoanalysis and publicly referred to Neumann’s book at least three times. In 1962 he commented:
Recently there was a book published on my work by a Jungian psychologist; I think the title was The Archetypal World of Henry Moore. He sent me a copy which he asked me to read, but after the first chapter I thought I’d better stop because it explained too much about what my motives were and what things were about. I thought it might stop me from ticking over if I went on and knew it all ... If I was psychoanalysed I might stop being a sculptor. I don’t know, but anyhow I don’t want to stop being a sculptor.33
In 1976, after Herbert Read and David Sylvester had published their own psychoanalytic accounts of Moore’s work, Moore recalled Neumann again:
But when the book came out I began to read the first chapter. After halfway through it I gave it up because I don’t want to know what makes me tick ... I don’t want to be influenced by what critics think because often they don’t know. And anyhow they are making it up.34
In 1983 Moore commented a third time. Responding to a question about the erotic aspects of his work, Moore said:
I do not have any desire to rationalise the eroticism in my work, to think consciously what Freudian or Jungian symbols may lie behind what I create. That I leave for others to do. I started to read Erich Neumann’s book on my work, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, in which he suggests a Jungian interpretation, but I stopped halfway through the first chapter, because I did not want to know about these things, whether they were true or not. I did not want such aspects of my work to become henceforth self-conscious. I feel they should remain subconscious and the work should remain intuitive. Perhaps the associations it can arouse are all the stronger for that very reason.35
We might wonder why Moore was willing to grant validity to Neumann’s project and yet not read the text. Peter Fuller once suggested that Moore, like so many artists of his generation, was erroneously frightened that analysis might damage his creativity.36 If Moore did stop in the middle of the first chapter, he stopped before anything personal was said: Neumann’s introductory remarks were restricted to the relation between conscious content and unconscious form in sculpture.
In many recorded utterances Moore indulged psychoanalysis up to a point and then pushed away from it. Late in life, for example, he told an interviewer, ‘I suppose it could be explained as a “Mother” complex’.37 This rather Freudian remark resonates most closely with David Sylvester and not Neumann, who meticulously argued the opposite (in a section of the book that Moore allegedly did not read). To read Moore’s remarks sympathetically, his wish to ‘remain intuitive’ did not reject the goal of psychoanalysis, which is to make the unconscious conscious. He might be saying that he had his own way of doing this through art and consequently did not feel the need for analysis. What seemed to be on Moore’s mind, however, was less the danger of over-inflating his ego and more the risk of losing his potency as an artist or the power of his work to arouse associations. Here Moore may also have been playing along with Herbert Read, who believed that it was best for artists not to comment on such things.

Herbert Read on Henry Moore

When it came to the visual arts Read and Neumann were probably Jung’s best interlocutors. In 1966 Read published his own interpretation of Moore’s work, ‘Henry Moore, Mother and Child’.38 Unlike Neumann, Read did not claim that Moore produced the feminine unconscious of a consciously militaristic and technological civilisation or that he served as the herald of a new cultural order. Neumann and Read differed in their reasons for admiring Moore and in understanding the reasons why his works could appear ugly. Neumann felt that Moore’s hollow reclining women used ugliness to evoke a powerful sense of vicarious suffering that helped the spectator digest inner impulses to evil and thereby digest a fragment of the collective impulse to evil.39 In the final paper he delivered at Eranos, Read also addressed the question of why modern art can be ugly at times, finding in ugliness an antidote for those struggling to cope with the barren meaninglessness of life.40 Read thought Moore’s work could be ugly because the latter was in touch with his inner demons. His work represented Jung’s ‘shadow’ archetype to which Read added a Freudian twist: the shadow archetypes came from instinctual forces of life and death, Eros and Thanatos. Moore did not show woman in harmony; he showed woman in vitality, in paradox and in the pathos of her darker side. According to Read, Moore was sufficiently in touch with his inner demons and angels to have reconciled them in stone and wood and in this respect he was like an analyst. The artist ‘meets the psychic needs of the society in which the artist lives’ because he has worked through his neurotic complexes enough to become an analytic instrument of collective destiny. What emerged from this essay, which was written for the United Nations in the midst of the Cold War, was the claim that Moore’s sculptures were archetypes that could be equally used for collective reconciliation or personal individuation and unification. But, Read added, the sculptures could not achieve this single-handedly because the artist could not easily interpret his own work. This would be to risk what the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called ‘Bad Faith’, a self-aware rather than spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious.41 To Read, the critic played a valuable and essential role in this analytic process. He used the art to help the public become more conscious of their transpersonal psychic life.
The differences between Neumann and Read, however, were less substantial than the differences between Neumann and Jung. Jung’s therapies were meant to help the ego become the self (god-within) archetype. Neumann saw things differently. The self was not just an archetype (a representation of biological instincts) but also a truly sacred force, and to seek union with the godhead was to risk madness. Neumann’s therapies aimed to help patients realise their filiation to the divine while keeping their ego, while Jung helped his patients to become divine by losing their ego. Neumann was more religious than Jung but he was also far more wary of the fine line between religiosity and delusional psychosis. This is why Neumann developed his concept of centroversion and why he consistently emphasised Moore’s wise acceptance of the limitations of his materials and his culture. His ‘feminine’ wisdom led him to give way to existential realities but also make the best of them.

Neumann in retrospect

Neumann’s The Archetypal World of Henry Moore was highly erudite, sometimes noble and often eccentric; it was always thoroughly and unabashedly poetic and eclectic. Neumann was neither scientific nor systematic and he often failed to mention more obvious explanations for some of Moore’s work. Like Jung, he often failed to distinguish between causes and effects, and his comparisons were sometimes tenuous, inconsistent and unexplained. Neumann’s book on Moore developed speculations and opinions on matters that a more scientific psychology or art history would not attempt to explain. Throughout history why has man been so consistently, if intermittently, compelled by certain stories, sculptures and images of deities, such as the goddess of the earth or the mother and child? How, if at all, has human religiosity changed through history, and how can art help develop man’s ethical sensibilities? These are seemingly impossible questions to answer and yet some find them worth asking. This brings us to the rather obvious and substantial projection in this book: what Neumann wanted for his patients was what Moore, Neumann believed, wanted for his spectators – to feel like the son or daughter of the great goddess. While this was clearly an assumption about Moore, a kind of psychoanalytic gamble that he was concerned to test in his letter to Moore, it also allowed him to make a serious argument for the value of public sculpture, and it remains so.42
Jung and Neumann were published by august Ivy League university presses, including Princeton and Yale. However, their prestige in academic circles declined with the rise of post-structuralism. From the 1960s a number of critics found that Jung’s analytical psychology overly promoted anthropomorphic projection and committed a kind of intellectual dishonesty. It encouraged individuals and society to live by myths and fantasies. It seemed to encourage the formation of ideology rather than its deconstruction. And, to an increasing number of psychoanalysts, its explanation of unconscious processes of image projection seemed flawed and insensitive to the function of language in the unconscious.
It is worth mentioning that a part of Neumann’s general thesis was independently formulated by some minimalist and conceptual sculptors in the 1960s and 1970s. Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, for example, valued a kind of sculptural negation of the collective consciousness or what they saw as an anti-monument to the collective unconscious.43 More fully still, earthwork artists such as Robert Smithson proposed that sculpture should represent entropy as the collective unconscious desire of a society that consciously wished for progress and consumption.44 Smithson, however, differed in his views on the nature of the collective unconscious: for him, it was ultimately a product of language rather than archetypes. We should bear in mind that the ideas Neumann was working with had their most productive application only with these important post-structuralist alterations.
Despite these criticisms, Neumann became an important theorist in the post-war refashioning of masculinity. Analytic psychology became increasingly popular in Hollywood: movies with such stars as James Dean and Marlon Brando began to explore the feminine side of male identity. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) explained the structural stages of Jung’s journey of introversion and became an acknowledged favourite of Hollywood scriptwriters and film producers, from to Walt Disney to George Lucas. Similarly, Neumann’s The Great Mother became popular in men’s therapy groups and in New Age philosophy. In the 1970s the Jungian dictum about ‘being in touch with your feminine side’ was almost a cliché and, to a degree, changed the arts.
With its emphasis on the feminine unconscious, it is not surprising that Neumann’s book has remained an object of debate among art critics and art historians with psychoanalytic and feminist inclinations. Three recent essays have re-examined Neumann’s psychoanalytic study of Moore. In ‘Henry Moore’s Mother’, published in 1999, the art historian Anne Wagner did not question Moore’s preoccupation with the feminine but, contra Neumann, called for a more biographical psychoanalysis that would include Moore’s relationships with his mother, wife and daughter. Wagner also reminded us that Moore’s work was caught up in the formation and representation of an ideology of modern motherhood. This is complementary in some ways to what the art historian Julian Stallabrass has pointed out: willingly or not, Moore participated in a state-sponsored ideological programme (‘His unusual mix of human content and avant-garde style could serve as a suitable expression of the caring technocracy of modern democratic socialism’).45 Wagner also began to question Neumann’s gendering of the unconscious. She identified in Moore’s alabaster Suckling Child 1930 a moment in which the theme of maternal fecundity was reworked into something more paternal. ‘Maternity, to put it crudely, became the phallus – in signification, and strangely enough, in form. The gestalt of these seamlessly united figures summons penis and testicles.’46
Henry Moore 'Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object' 1942
Henry Moore
Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object 1942
© Trustees of the British Museum; © The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved
In her essay ‘Bombs, Birth and Trauma, published in 2000, Lyndsey Stonebridge found drawings such as Crowd Looking at a Tied-up Object 1942 (fig.7) that seemed to deal in patently phallic imagery.47 She and Wagner opened the way to a more playful treatment of the question of ‘where was Moore’s unconscious masculine side?’ They were questions that Neumann missed because of his adherence to Jung’s gendering of the male unconscious as feminine. Stonebridge in particular hinted that a Lacanian reading of Moore might be an antidote to a persistent emphasis on the feminine. It was a good point given that, as Lacan pointed out, the unconscious was not only a feminine ‘imaginary’ as determined by the mother but also a masculine ‘symbolic’ as determined by the father. From this perspective everything that Neumann said was valid but it completely ignored half of the dynamic of an adult unconscious.
In ‘Erich Neumann: Theorist of the Great Mother’, an article published in 2006, the critic Camille Paglia offered a different feminist critique, one that welcomed Neumann’s emphasis on the imaginary side of the unconscious.48 She found many redeeming qualities in Neumann and his book on Moore. Granted, Neumann used Moore to present a stereotype of motherhood, but it was a positive stereotype, something that was not mediated by a preoccupation with language or social norms but a direct and powerful part of biological experience. In addition to being an admirable multiculturalist, Neumann’s return to nature was unabashedly romantic, something she found sadly missing among post-structuralist critics. For Paglia, Neumann’s Archetypal World offered a powerful and beneficial religious dimension to feminism that was far more rigorous and powerful, and far more widespread, than many realised. Interestingly, however, Paglia elided the fact that Neumann developed the majority of his theories to analyse men rather than women.
The Archetypal World of Henry Moore was Erich Neumann’s last book, one that synthesised his entire body of thought but over the last half century it has been Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, who has had a vastly greater influence on modern art. This is a little surprising, even a bit unfortunate, given that Jung was less informed and sympathetic than Neumann. Although Neumann helped ensure that Moore’s work remained a touchstone for gender issues, many of his broader ideas about sculpture never caught on. This was probably because Neumann’s main thesis was rarely clarified.
The basic thesis of The Archetypal World of Henry Moore was that sculpture should represent a collective unconscious in order to help maintain individual and social psychological health. As a general rule, sculpture should express what was socially disapproved and repressed; it should represent the private, inadmissible aspects of the collective unconscious. This made sculpture an important matter with substantial social responsibilities. This is why Neumann included his theory of centroversion – his greatest addition to Jung’s theories – to help critics and spectators identify sculptures that were too extroverted or too introverted, too neurotic (hysteric, phobic or obsessional) or too psychotic (schizophrenic or paranoid) to qualify as public sculpture.
To many in the arts today Neumann’s book still seems to come out of cloud cuckoo land; and there may be a good point here. Neumann’s speculations were highly leveraged in an intellectual economy that is now relegated to junk status. But these later views do not diminish the interest of the extraordinary circumstances in which the book came into existence. These circumstances remind us of the remarkable faith placed in public sculpture in the 1950s, and that there have been moments in art history when many have longed for an art that would affirm the existence of a collective unconscious. Seen in this light, Neumann's writings could yet broaden our understanding of the history of Moore’s public reception.


Aviva Lori, ‘Jung at Heart’, Ha’aretz, 28 January 2005.
Carl Jung, ‘Picasso’, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, no.153, 13 November 1932, reprinted in C.G. Jung, The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, London 1967.
Carl Jung, ‘Picasso’, 1934, reprinted in C.G. Jung 1967.
The responses to Jung’s essay on Picasso are examined in Reinhold Hohl, ‘C.G. Jung on Picasso (and Joyce)’, Source: Notes in the History of Art, vol.3, no.1, Fall 1983, pp.10–18.
Tamar Kron and David Wieler, ‘Erich Neumann: A Jungian Dialogical Existentialist’, presentation delivered at the Israel Institute of Jungian Psychology, 8 September 2013.
Gerhard M. Walch, ‘Erich Neumann – Leben und Werk’, C.G. Jung-Forum, e-Journal der ÖGAP, vol.3, pp.69–81.
Erich Neumann, ‘The Meaning of the Earth Archetype for Modern Times’, Princeton 1994, pp.165–226.
Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, Princeton 1955, p.83.
John R. Doheny, ‘Herbert Read’s Use of Sigmund Freud’, Herbert Read Reassessed, Liverpool 1998, p.78.
Herbert Read, Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness, Cambridge 1955, p.31.
Neumann may not have known of the chapter-length Jungian study of Moore in George Wingfield Digby, Meaning and Symbol in Three Modern Artists, London 1955. Digby considered the role of projection in art, and mentioned earth archetypes, divine child archetypes and dismemberment.
Erich Neumann, Art and the Creative Unconscious, London 1959, p.19.
Ibid., p.18.
Erich Neumann, Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine: A Commentary on the Tale by Apuleius, New York 1956.
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.2.
Ibid., p.12.
Ibid., p.21.
Ibid., p.25.
Ibid., p.33.
Ibid., p.32.
Ibid., p.39.
Ibid., p.51.
Ibid., p.45.
Ibid., p.82.
Ibid., p.95.
Ibid., p.94.
Ibid., p.103.
Ibid., p.97.
Stokes was an ardent Kleinian and wrote a rather critical review of The Archetypal World of Henry Moore that was never published. See Paul Tucker, ‘A Summing Up of All I Have Ever Thought’: Adrian Stokes’s ‘In Short’ (1942) and his Other Writings of the Period, Tate Papers, no.20, Autumn 2013, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/summing-all-i-have-ever-thought-adrian-stokess-short-1942-and-his, accessed 30 January 2015
Carl Jung, Psyche and Symbol, New York 1958, p.41.
Erich Neumann, letter to Henry Moore, 8 July 1959, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture: A Collection of the Sculptor’s Writings and Spoken Words, London 1966, p.50.
Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.142.
Ibid., p.115.
Peter Fuller, Henry Moore: An Interpretation, London 1993, p.76.
John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.61.
‘Henry Moore, Mother and Child’ was republished as ‘Henry Moore: The Reconciling Archetype’ in the following year in Read’s Art and Alienation, New York 1967, pp.123–37.
Henry Abramovitch, ‘Erich Neumann and the Search for a New Ethic’, Harvest, vol.52, no.2, November 2006.
Herbert Read, ‘Beauty and Ugliness’, Eranos Jahrbuch, Zurich, no.30, 1961.
Herbert Read, ‘Henry Moore: The Reconciling Archetype’, in Read 1967.
The Israeli Jungian analyst Henry Abramovitch has observed that Moore’s sculpture, as a paragon of maternal conciliation, remains relevant to the current political and spatial impasse in the Middle East (Abramovitch 2006, p.134).
Rosalind Krauss, ‘LeWitt in Progress’, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1985, p.258. See also Rosalind Krauss, ‘The LeWitt Matrix’, in Sol LeWitt, Oxford 1993, and Alex Potts, ‘The Negated Presence of Sculpture’, The Sculptural Imagination, New Haven and London 2000, pp.311–56.
Robert Smithson, ‘Entropy and the New Monuments’, Artforum, June 1966, reprinted in Jack Flam (ed.), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley 1996, pp.10–23.
Julian Stallabrass, ‘Henry Moore: Mother and Child’, in Henry Moore. Mutter und Kind/ Mother and Child, Much Hadham 1992.
Anne M. Wagner, ‘Henry Moore’s Mother’, Representations, no.65, Winter 1999, p.113.
Lyndsey Stonebridge, ‘Bombs, Birth, and Trauma: Henry Moore’s and D.W. Winnicott’s Prehistory Figments’, Cultural Critique, no.46, Autumn 2000.
Camille Paglia, ‘Erich Neumann: Theorist of the Great Mother’, Arion, vol.13, no.3, 2006, pp.1–14.
Dr Tim Martin is Reader in Cultural Theory at De Montfort University.

How to cite

Tim Martin, ‘Erich Neumann on Henry Moore: Public Sculpture and the Collective Unconscious’, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/tim-martin-erich-neumann-on-henry-moore-public-sculpture-and-the-collective-unconscious-r1151316, accessed 24 February 2024.