Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin: The dull carver and the magical modeller

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Henry Moore was fascinated by Auguste Rodin's technique, but a new exhibition showing their work side by side highlights their very different approaches to making an object work, says Michael Glover

Something unusual has happened at Henry Moore's 50-acre estate in rural Hertfordshire. For the first time ever, another sculptor, a Frenchman called Auguste Rodin, that great, 19th-century embodiment of the Hellenic tradition, has moved in to challenge the right of Moore's own sculptures (which range from figure groups to more abstract forms) to rule over these gently undulating fields. Today, at Eastertide, these are populated by troubled lambs skittering here and there in pursuit of their mothers. And what is the outcome of this challenge? Moore comes out seeming grave, slow and ponderously monumental, and Rodin, who was born more than 50 years before him, spirited and much lighter on his feet.

They sit quite close to each other, out in the swing of the blustery landscape, the Moores and the Rodins, eyeing each other suspiciously, wondering whether they share any common values. In 1917, the year of Rodin's death, Moore was serving in the Civil Service Rifles, 15th London Regiment. He fought in the Battle of Cambrai, and was invalided out after a gas attack. Within three years, he was studying sculpture at London's Royal College of Art.

To the young sculptor of those early decades of the 20th century, Rodin would have seemed a little like yesterday's man. Moore's passion was for everything that had happened before the Greeks made their mark, older and more primitive traditions of the kind that he saw represented in the great collections at the British Museum – Cycladic, Oceanic, African art. As he matured, Rodin came to mean more to him. He became increasingly engrossed in how Rodin worked: the way he combined parts of the body; how he seemed to profit by chance; how he succeeded in giving vigour and animation to a three-dimensional object. Fundamentally, they were both in pursuit of an answer to the same question: how to make an object work in the round. And yet when you stride between them, mud greedily sucking at your boots all the way, it is still the differences that make the greater impact. Moore is constantly striving to give heft, weight, gravity, some kind of immemorial pomp, to the overall form of a piece, whether it be a reclining nude that seems to modulate into the heave and ruck of landscape or a more abstract form that grows from its columnar plinth. With Moore, the devil is not so much in the detail. Our eye glides smoothly across, through and round a Moore. Rodin is quite different. His sculpture has much more bite.

We snag on every bit of a Rodin. One reason for this is quite simple. Rodin was a modeller – he manipulated clay with his fingers, messing with the stuff – whereas Moore was a carver. Even a cheese-grater was good for a bit of frottage. With Moore, you see the smoothly flowing lines; with Rodin you are caught short by jaggedness, pernicketyness, the ceaseless fuss of detailing.

The single greatest surprise here is to see Monument to the Burghers of Calais, which usually sits on its low plinth in Victoria Tower Gardens in the shadow of Parliament, out here in the fields. In this unaccustomed location, this multiple figure group looks more restlessly engaging than ever. Its closeness to the ground alarms us. Should a sculpture be eyeballing us to this extent? The way that the five burghers work in relation to each other never ceases to fascinate. They come at us from all directions – everywhere we stand gives us a slightly different take on the drama of the piece.

At a certain stage in the planning, Rodin visualised the group processing in a line. Now they seem to exist in a febrile, huddling swarm of collective anguish, not knowing in quite which direction to turn. The great key to the City of Calais itself hangs limply from a hand at the back – you only see it when you walk behind the sculpture – as if it is the most inconsequential of matters.

Rodin called this piece his novel, and you do indeed experience the possibility of multiple narratives opening up to you as you circle and circle it, staring up into each face, observing each writhing finger. If you view it from the front, you will see, on the extreme right, the clothed figure of Jean d'Aire.

Just a couple of hundred yards away, standing on its own in a handsome triangular field, stands Jean d'Aire yet again, but this time he is in the form of a monumental nude. Every muscle of his body seems taut and pent. His fists are clenched. The energy of the figure positively crackles.

A little way down the same field stolidly hunches a Moore sculpture called The Arch. It belongs to landscape – you could call it a kind of bony extension of landscape (as Moore's figures and groups often strove to be) – but it also looks and feels lumbering and strangely inert. Is it a problem of scale? Is it too big for its own good?

Moore's growing fascination with Rodin extended as far collecting works by the master. Deep into a field beside the Exhibition Gallery, which houses drawings, smaller sculptures and, on an upper floor, a selection of works collected by the two men during their lifetimes chosen by Moore's daughter Mary, you spot a tall, lonely column – about three metres in height – capped by a kind of hybridised Corinthian capital. On the top of that capital, on a plinth that just overflows beyond its limits, strides Rodin's tiny, headless, armless Walking Man, a cast of which Moore owned, striding today against a sullen skyline.

Moore, we know, interrogated this piece, ceaselessly, for clues to its success. How had Rodin managed to inject it with such ceaseless vitality? How had he managed to give the impression that the figure's weight appears to shift backwards and forwards, depending upon your angle of view? How, above all, had he managed to achieve such an illusion of springy movement? He pondered on the way in which the left leg seemed to drag. He photographed the work, again and again, for clues to its success – some of those dramatically engaging photographs can be seen on the walls of the upstairs gallery.

And yet, as we are aware, Moore was not after an illusion of movement. As far as he was concerned, it was not a sculpture's job, in the middle of the 20th century, to pretend that the body was in motion. Rodin may have been admirable, even magnificently informative in his way, but he was an heir to that muscleman Michelangelo, and Moore was facing in a slightly different direction.

The question that remains though is this: does all this stolid monumentality give his sculptures enough life in other meaningful ways? From the evidence of this show, the answer must be sometimes yes but often no. Moore too often seems leaden and dull and endlessly self-recapitulating.

Only one of the outdoor sculptures by Moore in this open-air tussle of the Titans seems to be an unqualified success, and that is the largest. It is called Large Figure in a Shelter, and consists of two huge cup-like arms, looming concavities, enclosing a figure that seems to embody fear and frailty. Immediately, we think back to Moore's greatest achievements, his drawings of victims of the Blitz huddling for shelter in the London Underground, a selection of which can be seen in the indoors gallery here. They are so haunting, so monumentally classicising, the figures in these dark drawings. Yes, those pesky Greeks, in the end, fed him his finest hand.

Moore Rodin, The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire (01279 843333; henry-moore.org) to 27 October

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders