HENRY MOORE SCULPTURE AND DRAWINGS 1923-1948
An exhibition of 53 sculptures, 44 drawings and 11 documentary photographs.
Various language versions of the catalogue, with an introduction by Herbert Read, were published to accompany the exhibition at each overseas venue. No ISBN numbers
The term ‘Documentary’ was not coined until the 1920s, and then used by the British film-maker, John Grierson, to refer to moving pictures. It has a long and continuous history in British photography, reaching back to the invention of the medium. Many critics claimed that the documentary impulse, which can perhaps be best defined as the systematic recording of visual reality for the purpose of providing information and encouraging understanding of the world, is inherent in the medium itself. It was this view which came to be known as the realist paradigm - the belief that a photograph represents a ‘slice of reality’ easily understood by the viewer. This belief governed understanding of photography from the moment of its invention in the era of positivism in the 19th Century, until it was itself subject to interrogation in the 1980s.
Early British practitioners included John Thomson whose visual essay Street Life in London (1876) documented the life of the London poor, and Hill and Adamson who portrayed, in the mid 1840s, the customs and way of life of the fisher folk of Newhaven near Edinburgh. In the early 20th century, following the emergence of documentary film-making and Mass Observation (a study undertaken in the North of England by the anthropologist Tom Harrisson), this new aesthetic found its most persuasive outlet in the mass circulation weekly magazines, such as Picture Post and Life. In time, however, pressure from advertisers combined with the restrictions of group journalism and curtailed the independence of creative photographers, with only exceptional individuals such as Bill Brandt able to survive as both a photojournalist and an independent photographer. His images of Britain’s class-ridden society along with his more experimental nudes, portraits and landscapes had a profound influence on a younger generation and established Brant as a major creative force in the development of modernism in Britain.
Mass Observation was designed to emulate the radical achievements of the worker-photography movement which had arisen in Germany during the 1920s. It proved influential on the evolution of British documentary, especially on those photographers associated with the Side Gallery in Newcastle. The gallery fostered a regional, community-oriented form of documentary practice. Its philosophy was rooted firmly in the notion that an authentic document can only be generated by those familiar with the local community. Photographers associated with Side Gallery included Sirkka Konttinen, Isabella Jedrecyck, Graham Smith, Peter Fryer, Chris Killip and Julian Germain.
It was, however, across the Atlantic that the more enduring legacy concerning the ethics and status of documentary was to be found in the work of the photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the American rural poor during the Depression. One of its outstanding photographers was Walker Evans whose use of signs and symbols (such as billboards and advertising hoardings) as images of desire created a text or narrative to accompany the careful sequencing of images. The direct inheritors of the photograph as social sign were the American photographers of the ‘social landscape’, namely Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus whose unsympathetic vision of the American landscape reflected the anxieties of urban life during the booming consumer decade - store fronts, billboards, graffiti and advertising. They chose to portray people, situations and artefacts in a casual and objective way that allowed the viewer to interpret the work freely; a strategy that became known as the ‘snapshot aesthetic’. One of those who experienced many of these developments first hand was the British photographer Tony Ray-Jones. His work was widely reproduced in the 1960s and his book A Day Off (1974) proved a particular inspiration for the generation of documentary photographers who developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The work of early documentary photographs can be found in the collections of the Royal Photographic Society www.rps.org)
The Mass Observation archive is held by the University of Sussex www.sussex.ac.uk/library/massobs/
The work of the Side Gallery can be seen at www.amber-online.com/gallery/
The archive for the Farm Security Administration is now in the Print and Reading Room Collections of the Library of Congress in Washington www.loc.gov/rr/print
The exhibition was shown in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels from October 8th to 30th, under the joint auspices of the British Council and the Belgian Ministry of Education, within the framework of the Anglo-Belgian Cultural Convention. Various receptions were given for the sculptor in Brussels at which he met many critics and artists. The Council also arranged for Mr Geoffrey Grigson to visit Brussels during the course of the exhibition to lecture on Mr Moore's work.
Official figures for the three weeks, excluding the private view at which 500 were present, were 3,439. the population of Brussels being approximately one million. Comparable figures for two other exhibitions of modern sculpture held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts since the war are: 1947, Zadkine 1,514; 1948 Laurents 3,804.
Articles in the press were numerous and strongly divided in opinion. Out of a total of 66 articles, 34 were in French; 30 in Flemish and 2 in English. The principal attacks were in two extreme right-wing papers, the weekly Phare Dimanche and the daily La Libre Belgique which carried three successive articles attacking the exhibition. The latter articles, which were largely political in tone with very little aesthetic comment, were directed chiefly against the Ministry of Education, the Cultural Convention, and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, rather than the British Council, whose work in other directions has often been favourably commented on in this paper. Strictures on the policy of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in sponsoring foreign exhibitions, while allowing native artists to starve, resembled, though more acid in tone, those directed in this country against the policies of the Arts Council and the British Council. Appreciative and better informed articles appeared in La Nouvelle Gazette and Le Soir, and other papers carried reports of Mr Grigson's lectures, and a translation of an article by Sir Philip Hendy originally published in Britain Today.
The Representative in Belgium comments:
It is difficult to decide which way these attacks affected the attendance. Probably the second article in La Libre Belgique sent a lot of people to the exhibition. On the other hand, one saw fewer of the outraged conservative type of visitor than one would have expected. The majority were young and seemed deeply interested, if not always convinced. It was clear from the number of languages overheard that many visitors to Brussels were attracted. There were frequent discussions in front of individual pieces of sculpture and several people paid repeated visits. There was a considerable number of parties from schools and from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the nearer provinces.
The exhibition was shown in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, from 19th November to 1st January, under the auspices of the Direction des Musées de France and the Direction General des Relations Culturelles.
The press view held on the 17th November was attended by 48 art critics and by the next day fully illustrated articles appeared in Arts, Art d'aujourd'hui, Le Figaro and L'age nouveau. A cocktail party was given by the British Council representative in honour of Mr Moore on the evening of the same day to about 120 guests.
The British Ambassador, the Directeur-General des Arts et des Lettres, the Directeur General des Musées de France were present at the private view which took place on 18th November between 3 and 5 pm. Over 1,500 people visited the exhibition which was the highest figure the Museum had ever had for a private view.
The collection occupied the same space as that for the Leger exhibition which preceded it; although the display was as arranged as possible in this not very happily designed museum, it did not show to the same advantage as it did in the greater space and better lit galleries at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
The Fine Arts Officer (Roland Penrose) in Paris commented that 'the Musée d'art Moderne attracts people who are definitely interested in modern art'. He mentions also the quality and enthusiasm of the visitors from all parts of France, some as remote as Nice, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.
He goes on to say that 'the success of the Moore exhibition is by far the most remarkable British triumph in France' and bases his opinion on the attendance figures (254 visitors a day), the quality of visitors and the enthusiasm of the critical articles. Frank Elgar, whom he calls 'one of the most sincere but bitterly aggressive French critics wrote in the popular weekly Carrefour in 1945 commenting on the British Council exhibition of contemporary painting shown in Paris in that year:
and in 1949 in the same paper Elgar wrote
The Fine Arts Officer concludes his report by saying:
Following the press view on January 12th which was very well attended, both by critics and sculptors, the exhibition was opened on the 13th January at the Stedelijk Museum by the Burgomaster of Amsterdam who, in the works of Mr Roger Hinks the British Council Representative, extricated himself adroitly from the embrace of Field-Marshall Lord Montgomery, who as usual chose to visit Amsterdam on a day when we were having an important event'. There were what Dr Sandberg, the Director of the Stedelijk Museum, considered to be an unusually large number of people present, including representatives of the Ministry of Education and the British Embassy, and most of the members of the Mixed Commission of the Franco-Dutch Cultural Convention, who happened to be in Amsterdam that day. The Representative in his remarks at the opening drew attention to the admirable presentation of the exhibition by Dr Sandberg. The sculptures were arranged in four large galleries in their chronological order, following very closely the numbering in the catalogue. All concerned including the sculptor considered it to be a very happily conceived display and that the works showed to better advantage than in either Brussels or Paris.
The total number of visitors recorded was 8,538 but this figure does not include those who visited the exhibition on the free evenings. Press cuttings from Amsterdam have shown that the exhibition met with widespread interest, reasoned assessment, and on the whole well-informed appreciation. Although a few critics were cool, there was little antagonism, and the most important daily and weekly publications carried long and carefully considered articles. In its weekly supplement of 21 January the Nieuwe Rotterdam Courant (comparable to the Manchester Guardian) have a half page article:
A writer in Parool (a popular daily) on 21 January said that the works 'were able to do no more that arouse in me a cool respect, - for the workmanship, for the rounded accomplishment, for this hard worker; respect for the balanced personality, for the feeling for the monumental, for the vast contained form to which this work testifies. I was not stirred in the spirit by them; they did not give me that petite sensation of which Cézanne speaks, the very core of all art.'>p>
The showing of the exhibition in Hamburg, where it was visited by under 3,000 people, cannot be counted an unqualified success. It was housed in a far less suitable gallery than expected, badly situated and in bad repair, and although for a long time before Dr Heise, the Director of the Kunsthalle, had been asking for the Council to send an exhibition of this kind, he seems at the last minute rather to have lost his nerve. This was perhaps understandable in the circumstances as described by the British Council Liaison Offer in Germany, who said in his report:
At the opening a long discourse placing Henry Moore's work in historical perspective was given by Dr Werner Haftmann, a young art critic from Munich. He wrote later in Die Zeit (22 March) 'Like proper similes of our modern existence these strange pieces of sculpture stand solemn, lonely, and massive as if planted on waste beaches; even the smallest figures express the feeling of lost loneliness and of vastness against wider horizons. If art can express the peculiar humanity of a period in a spiritual form, then this expression is to be found in the work of Moore'.
Die Welt (22 March) related Henry Moore to the political gloom of the times. 'The importance of Henry Moore - however one reacts to his work - is so great today that a judgement of his work demands a serious analysis of one's own artistic conscience … The work of Henry Moore, utterly without humour or cheerfulness (which are both spiritual qualities) represents all of us in our western impotence against mass and the machine. But this impotence may vanish once we become deeply aware of it. Why - speaking very plainly - has Moore's sculpture nothing in common with a work of art? These figures are at the mercy of a hand which at any time may come along with a chisel to add another hollow at any point of this or that figure and, if cleverly done, nothing would be altered. … Look around in the tram: everywhere Henry Moore! What he experienced in the shelters during the Blitz we should be able to understand too … Sweat, blood, and tears. That's what it is: man hunted by the machine taking refuge in the earth!.
Dr Heise writing in the Hamburger Echo (21 March) after condemning the Russian official attitude to art as much as Hitler's condemnation of all progressive German art as 'degenerate', urged people to go the exhibition with an open mind. 'It is not a question of uncritical admiration for his strange unique new conception of sculpture and drawing, but a question of enlarging our artistic horizon badly narrowed down through the war and Hitler influences. It means an attempt to feel and appreciate the powerful new expression of life that fills these works'.
The exhibition, which was shown at the Kunstmuseum, assumed greater importance in Düsseldorf than in Hamburg, and proved to be more popular. The Cultural Relations Officer of the Control Commission, Mr Lionel Perry, wrote on 14 June 'Perhaps you would like to know that the museum here consider the Moore exhibition to have been unusually successful for an exhibition of sculpture. There were 4,243 visitors and five conducted tours were also made. The museum received a large number of enquiries from sculptors and students (some of whom want to come to England of course).'
Gerhardt G Kramer write in the Rhein-Echo (3 May)
The exhibition was held in the Kunsthalle, a gallery devoted to temporary exhibitions of modern art, and under the official patronage of the Swiss Minister of the Interior and the British Minister. About three hundred people attended the opening on the evening of 9 June at which in stifling heat a long of appreciation of Moore's work was given in German by Mr John Thwaites who at the invitation of the Kunsthalle travelled from Munich. Henry Moore also visited Berne for the opening and helped with the arrangement of the exhibition.
Dr Rüdlinger, Director of the Kunsthalle, wrote I was personally very pleased with the exhibition. In my opinion Moore is in the first rank of modern sculptors with Laurens Lipschitz, Marini and Alberto Giacommeti. Most visitors recognised the seriousness of the work, the clean execution (Handwerkliche Sauberkeit) and the fact that Moore, as few other sculptors, has created comprehensive and very personal work. Swiss art criticism is not of a very high standard. Most critics have difficulty in evaluating modern art. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that there were also adverse criticisms. Nevertheless, in our opinion, a clear and negative attitude is of more value than a vague and non-committal recognition. A reviewer in (17 June) wrote that 'The British Council is presenting in the Berne Kunsthalle an exhibition of the works of the English sculptor Henry Moore, who is not only the most famous British sculptor of our times, but one may say of all times. This in itself is not saying much, for English sculpture has distinguished itself by no particular achievements until the coming of Moore…. The watercolours bear witness to the fact that Moore is also England's best modern painter, which, in itself is again not saying much, for English painting has scarcely distinguished itself during the past century by great achievements, although it was always better than English sculpture. Since the decline of England's world power, however, a new world power seems to be proclaiming itself in England: that of sculpture and painting. And the messenger who bears the glad tidings is no limping cripple'. Throughout the tour the dismantling, packing, unpacking, and re-erection of the exhibition was supervised by a senior member of Fine Arts Department. That this policy was justified has been proved by the fact that even after the works had toured Europe for nine months the sculptor had far less to do to put them into condition to return to their owners than he had had to make them fit for a British Council exhibition when they were first assembled.
I was personally very pleased with the exhibition. In my opinion Moore is in the first rank of modern sculptors with Laurens Lipschitz, Marini and Alberto Giacommeti.
Most visitors recognised the seriousness of the work, the clean execution (Handwerkliche Sauberkeit) and the fact that Moore, as few other sculptors, has created comprehensive and very personal work. Swiss art criticism is not of a very high standard. Most critics have difficulty in evaluating modern art. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that there were also adverse criticisms. Nevertheless, in our opinion, a clear and negative attitude is of more value than a vague and non-committal recognition.
A reviewer in (17 June) wrote that 'The British Council is presenting in the Berne Kunsthalle an exhibition of the works of the English sculptor Henry Moore, who is not only the most famous British sculptor of our times, but one may say of all times. This in itself is not saying much, for English sculpture has distinguished itself by no particular achievements until the coming of Moore…. The watercolours bear witness to the fact that Moore is also England's best modern painter, which, in itself is again not saying much, for English painting has scarcely distinguished itself during the past century by great achievements, although it was always better than English sculpture. Since the decline of England's world power, however, a new world power seems to be proclaiming itself in England: that of sculpture and painting. And the messenger who bears the glad tidings is no limping cripple'.
Throughout the tour the dismantling, packing, unpacking, and re-erection of the exhibition was supervised by a senior member of Fine Arts Department. That this policy was justified has been proved by the fact that even after the works had toured Europe for nine months the sculptor had far less to do to put them into condition to return to their owners than he had had to make them fit for a British Council exhibition when they were first assembled.
Greece, Athens, Zappeion Gallery
- 04 March 1951 − 22 March 1951
Switzerland, Berne, Kunsthalle
- 09 June 1950 − 23 July 1950
Germany, Dusseldorf, Kunstverein Fur Die Rheinlande & Westfal
- 30 April 1950 − 29 May 1950
Germany, Hamburg, Kunstverein
- 18 March 1950 − 16 April 1950
Netherlands, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum
- 12 January 1950 − 25 February 1950
France, Paris, Musee National D'art Moderne
- 18 November 1949 − 01 January 1950
Belgium, Brussels, Palais Des Beaux-Arts De Bruxelles
- 08 October 1949 − 30 October 1949