A Stonehenge of the imagination

"As it was a clear evening," wrote Henry Moore, "I got to Stonehenge and saw it by moonlight. I was alone and tremendously impressed. (Moonlight, as you know, enlarges everything, and the mysterious depths and distances made it seem enormous)."

The English sculptor was describing, to the poet Stephen Spender, his first encounter with the ancient circle of gigantic hewn stones in 1921. Moore had come to London from his native Yorkshire as a new student at the Royal College of Art. Soon after his arrival, he took a train to Salisbury to see Stonehenge. Until then, his fascination for this pre-Christian monument had been fed by book illustrations.

He revisited the stones the next morning, but, he told Spender, "that first moonlight visit remained for years my idea of Stonehenge."

Spender quoted Moore's words in his revealing introduction to a limited edition of 15 lithographs the artist called "Stonehenge." No. XI is reproduced here. "Cyclops" is its intriguing caption.

In these prints, produced in 1973, Moore presents a vision of the primeval monument that relates to his sculptural concerns: scale, size, and texture. He does not depict Stonehenge, as many previous artists did, in a pedestrian, topographical manner – as an impressive locality or unusually sublime tourist spot. Nor was he much concerned with the stones as history or as architecture.

Moore visited the site many times. He made "little sketches" and "quite often" took photographs. His lithographs evidently derive from these photographs and from memory. Clearly, Stonehenge had entered the inner recesses of his imaginative world. His close-up, shadowy – sometimes patently moonlit – investigations of them as dark and nebulous interior spaces burrow into subjectivity rather than celebrate, merely, an objective landmark. These brooding prints invest Stonehenge with a potent unfamiliarity.

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