The dark side of Henry Moore

In his thirties, the establishment's favourite sculptor was exploring erotically charged emotions and a rebellious streak, a new exhibition reveals. Andy McSmith reports

The Henry Moore we think we know is a conservative who produced reassuring sculptures that blend with the landscape, such as his bronze, Knife Edge – Two Piece, suitably located opposite the House of Lords. He is the establishment's favourite sculptor. He won acclaim with a series of graphic drawings of Londoners taking shelter from the Luftwaffe in the Underground, which were hung in the National Gallery during the war and became symbols of the spirit of resistance to the Blitz. His death in 1986 was marked by a service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey.

But a new exhibition of his work, which opens at Tate Britain, Westminster, tomorrow – the first for many years – is designed to draw out what the programme notes call "a dark and erotically charged dimension" to Moore. It suggests that the artist as a young man was a more brooding, rebellious figure than the gentleman he became as success made him respectable and rich.

A whole room of the Tate is taken up with a subject which seems to have obsessed Moore in his early thirties: depictions of babies suckling. In Western culture, the standard mother-and-baby image is the Madonna and child, in which everyone's attention, including the viewer's, is focused on the child. In Moore's sculptures not one of the mothers is looking at her baby. The child suckles, but the woman's attention is elsewhere, as if she is thinking about what her next task will be. Some of the women are so solidly built that they look as if they could be employed doing heavy lifting. In one sculpture, the mother has disappeared and all that remains is a child clamped to a disembodied breast.

None of these images has anything to do with Henry Moore's intense relationship with his daughter Mary. He was approaching 50 when she was born in 1946, whereas these images date from the early 1930s, just after Moore had married an art student, Irina Radetsky, whose mother had fled Russia after the revolution. The marriage produced no children for the first 16 years.

Moore's inspiration came from another relationship, which intrigued those of his contemporaries who had studied the work of Sigmund Freud. He told his friend Edouard Roditi that while he was making the first of these mother-and-child studies, in 1924, he realised that he was "unconsciously" giving its back the "long-forgotten shape" of a back that he had known well as a boy.

He explained: "I was a Yorkshire miner's son, the youngest of seven, and my mother was no longer so very young. She suffered from bad rheumatism in the back and would say to me in winter, when I came home from school: 'Henry, boy, come and rub my back.' Then I would massage her back with liniment."

Moore was born in Castleford on 30 July 1898. His father was a committed socialist. The son won a scholarship to Castleford Secondary School, where his talent was fostered by his art teacher. In 1917, he gave up a teaching post to go and fight, and at Cambrai underwent an experience whose significance, the curator of the Tate exhibition Chris Stephens believes, has been underrated. Three-quarters of the men in his unit were killed in a gas attack. Moore was sent home to recover from gas poisoning, returning to the front just before the armistice.

"This experience tends to be marginalised because, like everybody else, he was writing home cheery letters about 'meeting Jerry'. He wasn't a man given to describing his inner thoughts, because he belonged to a class, culture and generation that didn't talk about emotion," Mr Stephens said. "The affirmative, reassuring images that he created later, the abstract forms that relate to the landscape have, to some extent, compromised his critical reputation. There is a darker, edgier and sexier side to Henry Moore. I thought at one point that this might be a fantasy of mine, but actually it was much commented upon in the 1930s."

In the late 1930s, Moore was drawn into active politics, in support of the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He planned a trip to Spain in 1938, but was blocked by the Foreign Office. At that time, Moore produced a series of stringed figures and disturbing drawings in which sculptures are displayed in what could be grim prison cells. In 1939, he produced a threatening-looking sculpture based on a soldier's helmet.

"What it was like to be a figure on the left in the late 1930s is hard to imagine," Mr Stephens said. "There was a real inner conflict in Moore who was a pacifist because of his experience in the First World War and an anti-fascist. There was a political tension in which he was actively engaged, which I think the physical tensions of these figures relates to."

In the event, the anti-fascist in Moore prevailed over the pacifist. If he had been young enough to fight, he might have enlisted again. Instead, those shelter drawings have endured as his contribution to winning the war.

Trauma and creativity: Four tormented artists

Edvard Munch

Most famous for The Scream, Munch was a sickly child whose mother died when he was five years old. His beloved sister died nine years later. Munch later wrote of his father: "My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious – to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born."

Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh suffered from mental illness throughout his life, thought to have been schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, among other conditions. The nature of his work hints at an increasing frustration with the episodes he suffered, which he felt were restraining his creativity. On 27 July 1890, aged 37, he shot himself.

Rembrandt

The Dutch master's paintings of his wife on her deathbed are often said to be among his most moving works. Saskia died in 1642 soon after giving birth to her fourth child, Titus – the only one to survive to adulthood. Rembrandt's work took on a more sombre tone as personal tragedies took their toll.



Samuel Palmer

A contemporary of the poet and artist William Blake, Palmer tried his hand at painting, etching and printmaking as well as writing. However, his later years were tinged with the sadness he felt at the death of his son, which he called the greatest tragedy in his life.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice