Henry Moore (1898-1986) was an innovator of British art, spanning sculpture, collage and photography. He is perhaps best-recognised for large, abstract forms which sit within the British landscape, at locations such as Yorkshire Sculpture Park. These structures offer an alternative viewpoint on the natural world. Shape, texture and tone inform Moore’s wider career, drawing on a diverse bank of inspiration and experiences. Arriving in London from Yorkshire in 1921, Moore was confronted by a cityscape which stood in contrast to the mining villages of his childhood. The artist witnessed pivotal historic events, including WWII and mining disasters. Raw materials, including stone, clay and wood, offered stability within an unsettled contextual environment.
Moore met German-born photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983) during WWII, documenting communities sheltering within the London Underground during the Blitz. Although the pair worked in separate mediums, a visual synchronism was formed. Pictures of unemployed families, coal miners and depleted housing estates feature in a shared oeuvre. A new publication from Yale Center of British Art investigates the relationship between these two pioneers of British art, documenting a history of resilience and strength in the face of adversity.
For example, Moore’s Family Group (1944) displays four faceless figures in a conjoined configuration. Two taller figures, the parents of the unit, sit on a plinth, acting as a solid structure. Two smaller forms, assumedly their children, balance above in energetic positions. The piece was informed by around 13 preparatory models, as well as an array of drawings, demonstrating a crossover of media and the wealth of experiences embedded in the sculptor’s work. The protectiveness of the adults juxtaposes the juvenile playfulness of the children. This composition reflects similar scenes pictured by Brandt during wartime.
Brandt later photographed Moore and his oeuvre – solidifying a joint language of displacement, grief, hope and recovery. Henry Moore (1948) presents the artist as stern – intensely peering out from behind an abstracted sculpture. The swirling grain of the wooden body is reminiscent of a mountainous setting, accentuated further by moody shadows and blackened crevasses. In this way, both artists use abstraction to reveal deeper perspectives, contemplating how traumatic events shape identity.
Yale Center of British Art charts three decades of this relationship. The book includes 269 coloured illustrations alongside text and memorabilia, bringing Brandt and Moore’s portfolio into context. An adjoining exhibition at The Hepworth, Wakefield, allows visitors to identify connections between the artists. The publication and show cement their ongoing legacy as groundbreaking figures of the 20th century.
Lead Image: Bill Brandt, Normandy, 1959, gelatin silver print, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, © Bill Brandt/Bill BrandtArchive Ltd.
1. Bill Brandt, Nude, Baie des Anges, 1959, Bill Brandt Archive Ltd., London, © Bill Brandt/Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.
2. Bill Brandt, Nude, Baie des Anges, 1959, Bill Brandt Archive Ltd., London, © Bill Brandt/Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.