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Moore's daughter takes stage in a village drama: A great sculptor's artistic legacy hinges on a planning inquiry. David Lister reports

IT WAS a curious setting in which to decide the future of one of Britain's most fascinating artistic legacies.

In Much Hadham village hall, Hertfordshire, on a stage usually used for a village concert and to shrieks from the playgroup in the next room, Mary Moore, the only daughter of the sculptor Henry Moore, perched next to the piano and talked charmingly but determinedly of how she would not let anyone disregard her late father's wishes.

It was a curious subject, too, for a planning inquiry. The placing of sculpture, how it is affected by light and shade, by landscape, by surrounding animals, all seemingly underpinned by an only daughter's determination to safeguard what she saw as her father's wishes.

At one point David Woolley, the barrister representing the Henry Moore Foundation, implored Ms Moore: 'What I have difficulty in understanding is how you imagine that the Secretary of State for the Environment or any of his civil servants can resolve these difficulties. They have not got the expertise have they?'

The 'difficulties' arose from the wish of the Foundation to build a reception centre, study centre and print and drawing gallery at Perry Green in Hertfordshire where it maintains Moore's studios, gardens and sculptures. It was yesterday concluding its appeal against East Hertfordshire District Council's refusal of this plan.

The last witness at the inquiry was Ms Moore, seated opposite Sir Alan Bowness, the former Tate Gallery director who now runs the foundation, but never looking at him. Relations between the two are all but dead.

At one point yesterday she said: 'It is interesting to note that Sir Alan Bowness has preserved, Barbara Hepworth's, his mother-in-law's, studios even to the extent of placing them under the control of the Tate Gallery of which he was director for many years, whilst he is proposing to alter the environment of Henry Moore, his mother-in-law's contemporary.'

Ms Moore, who now lives in Dorset with her husband, an art dealer, gave her evidence slowly, often smiling and slipping only when Mr Woolley asked her when she got married: '1977 I think, no 1974, no I can't remember.'

But it was her aim to talk of her relationship with her father, not her husband. She quoted a letter he wrote saying 'She (Mary) knows my private mind, as well as my public countenance, as no one else does.'

When she brought other people into her evidence it became state-of-the-art name dropping. 'At my suggestion my father and Sir Leslie Martin examined the building . . . Sir Leslie Martin is a noted architect . . . responsible for the Royal Festival Hall. The garden was carefully recorded during my mother's lifetime by Sir Stephen Spender who has written a definitive book on the landscaping.'

Her father, she said, often derived the inspiration for the installation of a piece of sculpture from the natural character of the landscape. And she quoted his assertion that 'some sculpture finds its best setting on a stretch of lawn or beside a pool. Others might be more effective, more poignant, set against the rhythm and raggedness of trees . . . Yet others need the secret glade, a patch of grass enclosed by high bushes to give a sense of privacy.'

In case the Department of Environment inspector missed the point she quoted her father again: 'Sculpture is an art of the open air. Daylight, sunlight, is necessary to it, and for me its best setting and complement is nature.' The foundation would, she maintained, reintroduce proposals for a sculpture gallery (dropped before the inquiry) if its other proposals were allowed.

She waxed equally lyrical against the foundation's proposal for a viewing tower on the reception centre. 'If this tower is built, no one will understand what my father looked at as he walked back home from the far fields and the outlying studios.'

The proposed centre 'contrasts badly with his perception of his working environment and is alien to his personality. It will thus give a very distorted view of my father's work and life. My father was modest, not grandiose.'

Sir Alan Bowness and the foundation have said they have insufficient space to store the collection properly or display works for the benefit of students. The 70-acre site contains up to 660 Moore sculptures and thousands of drawings and graphics.

Sir Henry Moore's daughter must wait up to six months for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a decision. In a separate court case, she is suing the foundation over ownership of some Moore works.

(Photograph omitted)