At totality enveloped in air
A sincere and abiding love for humanity illuminates the long career of the British sculptor Henry Moore. This is evident in all his work, but in none does it show more than in the "Family Group" of 1948-49. The theme is developed with gentleness, nobility, grandeur, and dignity.
Crystalization of the idea came about quite naturally. After a long day's work in the studio, Moore frequently sits by the fire, takes up a notebook, and draws, sometimes working out a sculptural problem, quite often responding to the desire to use pencil on paper. Lines, tones, and shapes are sketched with no conscious purpose, certainly no thought of eventually framing and exhibiting them. As his mind takes in what is being produced, he may become aware of an idea at work. Control and ordering follow.
Many sculptures begin like this, in the subconscious levels of the mind, and so with the "Family Group": "We were just going to have our first child, Mary," he wrote, "and the whole idea was close to me as a person." And as a sculptor, he might have added.
The photo shown here was made in Florence, Italy. Henry Moore had been invited to present an exposition, never to be forgotten, on the superb site of the Forte di Belvedere, which overlooks the city and its famous hills. Here the artist personally located his large sculptures, taking great care that each was ideally situated for its best three-dimensional effect and at the same time did not interfere with the others. After all, as he said, his art was confronting the art of Giotto, Masaccio, and Michelangelo in their own city.
We had the exciting experience of moving slowly around "Family Group." Each view flows into another and suggests something else to follow. From the back, the figures are monumental and impressive. One side view shows the parents' bodies forming a circle out of which the child rises.
The pliant character of the bronze has been retained, while an intricate system of tensions, supports, and lines brings the work alive. The legs of the parents push out diagonally in opposite directions. Knees and heads thrust upward sharply. The line of the father's left arm carries across the mother's right arm, up and over the shoulders of both, forming an oval set obliquely in space. Again we see the child enfolded in loving care.
Habitually, after germinating an idea through a drawing. Moore begins a sculpture with very small maquettes, small enough to hold in his hand, so that by turning the wrist the entire shape is visible. He thinksm in solid form, knowing from looking at one side what the other is like and the kind of space the object will supplant. He is dealing with a totality enveloped in air.
Moore, very adept at carving stone, turns often to bronze, because "it enables me to do things I could not do in stone. Stone cannot stand on its own ankles [as] you can because of the marvelous organization of bones and muscles. . . . If you were in stone, you would break. Bronze has tremendous tensile strength. Figures can be made long and thin, wider at the top than at the bottom, giving them an uplift, a soaring feeling."
His inspiration comes from the natural world around him: the growth of a flower, the hard tenseness of a bone, animals, people, pebbles, shells, a tree, or a fossil, the shape things have taken as a result of organic forces.
One problem that occupies him is how far the plastic form should alienate itself from reality in order to acquire the right to exist. He knows mechanical copying will not suffice. Art is creation, not imitation. At times his work verges on being abstract; however, there remains always a human psychological content.
Moore is and looks British; a ruddy face with transparent blue eyes fixed on you calmly contrasts with quick movements, vigorous manners, and a lucid restless mind.
Beauty in thee usually accepted sense has never been his aim. His sculptures exploit a power deeper and more moving. They express the significance of living and are an affirmation of subjective emotion.