Henry Moore’s repose

Imagine a Henry Moore scuplture. Now – which one is it?

If you did have a particular sculpture in mind, then did you have a clearer picture of the sculpture itself, than of its location?

Even if you answered “Yes” to that question, you’ll probably admit that many more people would answer “Don’t know” to the first question, than if I’d asked the same question about, say, Michelangelo, Rodin, Antony Gormley, or Anish Kapoor.

I think that says different things about those four artists, but I found out what it says about Henry Moore when I saw the Tate’s recent exhibition of his work. My answer to the first question is, now, one of his early works: a small piece, a head and upper torso of a woman, carved from verde di Prato. It’s composed of dozens of choices between the literal and the ideal. The line of her upturned chin is not uniform, but answers differently to the flesh below her cheekbone and the flesh above her neck. The line that delimits her lips is crisp, and at each corner of her mouth it turns smartly to a short vertical. The curve at which her right breast meets her torso reflects the pressure of her right upper arm, but has a mathematical clarity. Her hair is unfinished, unpolished; and the rear of her right arm retains the angularity of the piece of marble from which she came.

The calm of Henry Moore’s later works is only the calm of the artist who has abandoned the struggle to find the ideal in the physical, and prefers to simply produce models of it there.

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