“I was born when he was 50 and you never ask your parents all the questions that, when they’ve gone, you wished you had asked.”
Mary Moore was reflecting on her relationship with her father, the sculptor Henry Moore, as she walked around the major new exhibition of his work that she helped curate at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Her involvement adds an authenticity to the exhibition, which includes personal items borrowed from her own collection.
“My father died in 1986, there are less people who knew him well around now,” she said.”I grew up with him, I was in his studio, I was with him every day. All he ever spoke about was sculpture, and his view of the world. There are insights still to be gained from those who knew him and lived with him.”
In the final years of his life, housebound, with failing eyesight and his hands gripped by arthritis, Moore was still creating detailed drawings of landscapes from his memory, which his daughter believed were of the countryside surrounding his Hertfordshire home.
But looking out of the window of her Yorkshire hotel this month, as the final touches were being made to exhibition, Mary Moore had a revelation.
The landscapes he drew were not those of his home for more than 40 years, but those she was staring at, the Yorkshire countryside Moore had grown up in.
“They were inside him, he had internalised them, so right at the very end, he was still seeing the landscapes of his childhood,” she said.
Moore’s work was deeply connected to the land, something which fuelled his visual vocabulary and the major theme of the YSP exhibition, which has been partly curated by Mary Moore, the sculptor’s only child.
Moore left Castleford when he was 22, but Mary Moore said his boyhood experiences and the security of his family in the landscape he loved, had a lasting effect on him.
“He said Yorkshiremen are often like Scottish seed potatoes, they are very hardy, but when you transport them down south they flourish in softer climes,” she said.
And flourish Moore did. Regarded as a radical, Moore went from a mining family in West Yorkshire to become one of the most celebrated British artist’s of the 20th century.
His pieces sit in galleries, gardens and public spaces around the world, and are instantly recognisable, but the new exhibition puts a fresh perspective on Moore’s work, allowing the viewers to see the connection between his famous reclining figures and abstracts with the landscape he grew up in.
In YSP’s Project Space, which Mary curated, three large photographs of her father frame the room, each connected to the objects displayed in a cabinet beneath it. A mixture of personal items, curiosities and ethnographic artefacts Moore collected, as well as working models and instantly recognisable maquettes created for larger pieces, all carefully chosen by his daughter.
The first photograph shows Moore sketching miners in Wheldale Colliery, Castleford, in 1942. Below it, ancient pieces like a pre-classical Tlatilco female figure from 1150-550BC stands next maquettes like one created for Seated Woman: Thin Neck (1960).
Moore can been seen in stood surrounded by giant slabs of stone in a quarry in the Carrara Mountains, Italy, in the second photograph, placed above a collection of items including a whale vertebrae, a bone dagger, and a goat’s head, along with model’s Moore made of horses.
The third picture shows Moore in the London Underground, sketching people who spontaneously set up camp in unofficial shelters during the Second World War. The cabinet below contains Mexican and African masks and helmets, and a vessel made from volcanic stone.
All three photographs were chosen for their connection with the land, with being underground, and all linked with some of Moore’s best known works - the shelter and mining sketches, and his love of carving in stone.
Choosing the items was quick and instinctive for Mary, who put together a similar collection for an exhibition, ‘Moore Rodin’, at the Henry Moore Foundation four years ago. She also looks after the changing collection at Hoglands, the family’s home at Perry Green, Hertfordshire, where she and her father set up the Foundation in 1977.
In the final cabinet in the centre of the room are Moore’s tools, drawing materials, old inks, and charcoals, different mallets used for stone and wood. Items that are 40 years old, that he used everyday in his studio. They are deeply personal, and Mary points out an Elizabeth Arden face cream pot of her mothers that her father used to store bits in, and an old sponge of hers he took out of the bathroom to use in his work.
“He wasn’t frugal, but he used the things around him, in a Yorkshire kind of way,” she said.
In the middle of the cabinet is a drawing from the 1970s that Moore did of his own hands when he was arthritic, alongside a small model created when he was working on the hands of Queen (1952).
For Mary, it was important to show the tools and the process behind the pieces.
“It makes this room feel a bit like a studio,” she said. “What we’re really talking about is an artist’s process.
“This cabinet, in the middle of the room, ties them all together subliminally and makes one think about how everything here is connected.”
That connection continues in the next room, where larger figures are displayed alongside charcoal sketches. Pictures created during those trips underground at Wheldon Colliery sit next to large sculptures, both abstracts and figures, where the holes that are so familiar in Moore’s work are now instantly recognisable as those same tunnels represented on paper. The hills of the landscapes Moore created in his 80s are obvious on the smooths and slopes of the reclining figures. Other holes becomes caves, and the flat surfaces plateaus.
Having become used to seeing Moore’s work as representations of figures it is this connection with the landscape, be it man made or natural, which allows people to see the work again almost looking at it for the first time.
This is something Mary believes we can all learn to do, something that her father taught to the people who would visit their home, including actress Lauren Bacall.
“My father said that sculpture was the hardest of all the arts because its the closest to us, she said. “He was a great teacher. In two minutes he could show you how to draw or how to view sculpture, whether it was to me or to Lauren Bacall. The way they saw things just changed
“People have become form blind - they see iPads and TVs, everything is two dimensional. He took sculpture away from the wall and out into the middle of the room or out into a space, and with that, he asks us to approach it, to walk around it.”
Mary Moore is perhaps her father’s greatest champion, but also critic.
“There are artists who give us their own vocabulary, and for some extraordinary reason, we can’t explain it,” she said. “Except that I know that my father was born a sculptor, his influences were all around him, and he created a new vocabulary, one where the human body, or the forms of the human body, start to relate to the shapes of the landscape, He was looking at form, and metamorphosing these ideas together.”
Henry Moore: Back to the Land is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until September.