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Henry Moore and Genocide Effects

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    The aftermath of World War II, The Holocaust, and the age of the atomic bomb instilled in the sculpture of the mid-1940s a sense that art should return to its pre-cultural and pre-rational origins. In the literature of the day, writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre advocated a similar reductive philosophy. [36] At an introductory speech in New York City for an exhibition of one of the finest modernist sculptors, Alberto Giacometti, Sartre spoke of “The beginning and the end of history”. [37] Moore’s sense of England emerging undefeated from siege led to his focus on pieces characterised by endurance and continuity. 36] Moore’s signature form is a reclining figure. Moore’s exploration of this form, under the influence of the Toltec-Mayan figure he had seen at the Louvre, was to lead him to increasing abstraction as he turned his thoughts towards experimentation with the elements of design. Moore’s earlier reclining figures deal principally with mass, while his later ones contrast the solid elements of the sculpture with the space, not only round them but generally through them as he pierced the forms with openings.

    Earlier figures are pierced in a conventional manner, in which bent limbs separate from and rejoin the body. The later, more abstract figures are often penetrated by spaces directly through the body, by which means Moore explores and alternates concave and convex shapes. These more extreme piercings developed in parallel with Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures. [38] Hepworth first pierced a torso after misreading a review of one of Henry Moore’s early shows.

    The painted plaster Reclining Figure (1951) outside the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is characteristic of Moore’s later sculptures: an abstract female figure intercut with voids. There are several bronze versions of this sculpture. When Moore’s niece asked why his sculptures had such simple titles, he replied, All art should have a certain mystery and should make demands on the spectator. Giving a sculpture or a drawing too explicit a title takes away part of that mystery so that the spectator moves on to the next object, making no effort to ponder the meaning of what he has just seen.

    Everyone thinks that he or she looks but they don’t really, you know. [39] Moore’s early work is focused on direct carving, in which the form of the sculpture evolves as the artist repeatedly whittles away at the block. In the 1930s, Moore’s transition into modernism paralleled that of Barbara Hepworth; the two exchanged new ideas with each other and several other artists then living in Hampstead. Moore made many preparatory sketches and drawings for each sculpture. Most of these sketchbooks have survived and provide insight into Moore’s development.

    He placed great importance on drawing; even when he had arthritis, he still was able to draw. [40] After the Second World War, Moore’s bronzes took on their larger scale, which was particularly suited for public art commissions. As a matter of practicality, he largely abandoned direct carving, and took on several assistants to help produce the larger forms based on maquettes. By the end of the 1940s, he produced sculptures increasingly by modelling, working out the shape in clay or plaster before casting the final work in bronze using the lost wax technique.

    These maquettes often began as small forms shaped by Moore’s hands—a process which gives his work an organic feeling. They are from the body. At his home in Much Hadham, Moore built up a collection of natural objects; skulls, driftwood, pebbles, rocks and shells, which he would use to provide inspiration for organic forms. For his largest works, he often produced a half-scale, working model before scaling up for the final moulding and casting at a bronze foundry. Moore often refined the final full plaster shape and added surface marks before casting. 41] Moore produced at least three significant examples of architectural sculpture during his career. In 1928, despite his own self-described “extreme reservations”, he accepted his first public commission for West Wind for the London Underground Building at 55 Broadway in London, joining the company of Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill. In 1952, he completed a four-part concrete screen for the Time-Life Building in New Bond Street, London, and in 1955 Moore turned to his first and only work in carved brick, “Wall Relief no. ” at the Bouwcentrum in Rotterdam. The brick relief was sculptured with 16,000 bricks by two Dutch bricklayers. Legacy Most sculptors who emerged during the height of Moore’s fame, and in the aftermath of his death, found themselves cast in his shadow. By the late 1930s, Moore was a worldwide celebrity; he was the voice of British sculpture, and of British modernism in general. The next generation was constantly compared against him, and reacted by challenging his legacy, his “establishment” and his position.

    At the 1952 Venice Biennale, eight new British sculptors produced their Geometry of Fear works as a direct contrast to the ideals behind Moore’s idea of Endurance, Continuity. Herbert Read coined the phrase for these “Young British Sculptors” when he wrote of the Biennale, “Here are images of flight, of ragged claws ‘scuttling across the floors of silent seas’, of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear. “[43] The works alluded to rib and cage forms, insect shapes, and to aggression and predation.

    Read drew a direct connection and continuity between these new sculptors—all were under 40—and Moore, but in fact they were driven by a need to find a new beginning in art. Some had no formal artistic education, and, coming from a generation decimated by the war, only sought to be rid of the past. [44] Yet Moore had a direct influence on several generations of sculptors of both British and international reputation. Among the artists who have acknowledged Moore’s importance to their work are Sir Anthony Caro,[45] Phillip King[46] and Isaac Witkin,[47] all three having been assistants to Moore.

    Other artists whose work was influenced by him include Lynn Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bernard Meadows, Reg Butler, William Turnbull, Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, and Geoffrey Clarke. Today, the Henry Moore Foundation manages the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds which supports exhibitions and research activities in international sculpture. By the Foundation’s own admission, popular interest in Moore’s work has declined since his death, yet the institutions he endowed continue to play an essential role in promoting contemporary art in the United Kingdom. [49]

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