Work - Theory - Impact
London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2008
Hardcover. 471 p. ISBN 9781905711215. £48.00
Reviewed by Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen
My initial acquaintance with the “real” Moore (1898-1986)—that is his work “in the flesh” as opposed to illustrations in books—can be precisely dated: the major exhibition of his large sculptures in the Bagatelle park in Paris in 1992. Another great memory is that of the “Henry Moore : War and Utility” Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London in 2006,(1) in which I saw his original Shelter Drawings for the first time.
If I mention these two defining moments, with the renewed pleasure of seeing another selection of his large sculptures in the fields around Much Hadham on a glorious August Sunday in 2001 and the reconstruction of his studio at the Musée Rodin, Paris, in 2010, it is because I suppose that the readers of this hefty book(2) will have their own memories of their first encounter(s) with the “real” Moore—and therefore the same apprehensive trepidation as I had before I opened it: will it have all these marvels among its (469) illustrations? Will it recapture the initial emotion of first seeing the “real” objects and pictures? Additionally, will it enhance one’s enjoyment of the works by the quality of its commentaries?
Well—quickly thumbing through the book, one is immediately reassured: the Shelter Drawings have a chapter to themselves, while the major outdoor sculptures are present all through the book, often photographed (in colour) from different angles, sometimes with close-ups, thus partly overcoming the great difficulty of reproducing three-dimensional works on a flat sheet of paper.
The programme announced in the subtitle, “Work - Theory - Impact”, is closely adhered to, each of the three parts being divided into chapters which concentrate on particular aspects of its theme. The third part has an absolute symmetry in its construction: after an introductory chapter devoted to “Moore’s impact on International Sculpture, 1945-86 and Beyond” we have six other chapters examining this impact in, respectively, West and East Germany, England, North America, Japan, Russia and Poland. The impact in question provides in fact the greatest originality of the book if we compare it to other, older monographs on Moore, in that it traces, identifies and discusses Moore’s influence in works by subsequent artists. Sometimes the reference to Moore is made deliberately evident by the artist himself in the chosen title: Wieland Förster’s Reclining Woman (1965-1967), Wilhelm de Kooning’s Reclining Figure (1969-1982) or David Nash’s King and Queen (1988) are obvious examples.
Christa Lichtenstern also shows sculptures which are “in Moore’s manner”, like Toni Stadler’s Marshall-Brunnen (Marshall Fountain) (1961) or Fritz Cremer’s O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter(3) (O Germany, Pale Mother) (1961-1965). The latter is particularly interesting—the work itself (which benefits from a fine large-size colour reproduction) of course, if only for its proposed location, the Memorial at Mauthausen Concentration Camp, but also its genesis and the commentary from Christa Lichtenstern. Fritz Cremer (1906-1993) was an Official Artist of the German Democratic Republic who discussed Henry Moore in a 1975 issue of Bildende Kunst, a journal which had denounced Moore as “late-bourgeois”. Now, Cremer also attacked Moore’s art—in the particular newspeak of the age inherited from Stalin—as “undialectic” and “pre-historic”, and he got Moore’s views on Greek and early art completely wrong: but, and this is the excellent point made by Christa Lichtenstern, Cremer paid Moore the greatest possible homage in practice by getting inspiration from Moore in his own work, as evidenced by O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter. In this particular case, Christa Lichtenstern’s demonstration is made very convincing by the analyses of Henry Moore’s thought provided in the earlier chapters, notably that on Henry Moore and Greek Antiquity—thus illustrating one of the major strengths of the book, viz. the constant connection between the various threads followed at different stages.
In the chapter on Moore’s influence in England, the best part is taken by a (magnificently illustrated) discussion of Tony Cragg (b. 1949) and the complex relationship between the two. Ostensibly, Cragg rejects Moore, if we are to believe what he said during a 2000 interview:
In terms of invention and modes of expression—compared to Brancusi, Picasso or Duchamp—I don’t find his work very exciting. With regard to the forms, it’s conservative, even romantic at times. The viewer is supposed to admire how beautiful weathered stone or bleached sheeps’ bones from moors and heathlands can be. Moreover with his particular brand of Formalism he blocks our access. You can touch his sculptures, which I don’t like very much. […]
I have problems with Moore when he adopts an artistic position that very vaguely problematises humanist issues. He engages with the relationship between human beings and the landscape, without coming to any concrete conclusion. 
But once again, Christa Lichtenstern shows the contradictions between this declared rejection (Cragg also told her in 2007 that “Moore lacked Picasso’s emotion and had no real interest in new materials” ) and the obvious debt of the younger to the older sculptor, particularly visible in the use of holes and cavities in Cragg’s work.
Interestingly, the book has a “Preface by Tony Cragg CBE RA” in which he repeats an expression which he had used in his 2007 interview with Christa Lichtenstern to describe Moore: “cultural flagship” in 2007 , “the willing culture flagship to a nation in the process of losing an empire [after the Second World War]” in his undated (2008?) Preface, which continues:
The enormous success of Henry Moore […] certainly did not come about because he made pleasing, popularistic sculptures. On the contrary, his work was challenging for the public of that time because he rejected classic figurative aesthetics and he was among the first generation of sculptors in Europe who endeavoured to create sculptures not based on representation but emotional responses to material forms. 
This flattering paragraph, somewhat correcting the negative image of the absence of “Picasso’s emotion” in the work of “the willing culture flagship to a nation in the process of losing an empire”, ends in fact with a sentence which we can only understand as undisguised praise of Moore’s absolute artistic integrity: “When he was given public commissions he uncompromisingly followed the dictates of the work, pushing forward, unconcerned by the expectations of others”. 
Of course, throughout the book, Christa Lichtenstern has to deal with this prima facie “impossible” conundrum: how can one reconcile Henry Moore’s popular success with the uncompromising “difficulty” of most of his work—even his early work? The eponymous chapter (The Early Work) will ring a bell for visitors to the recent Vorticists Exhibition at Tate Britain, as she traces much of his production in the 1920s to sculptures (reproduced in the book) by Jacob Epstein (e.g. his Venus, 2nd version, of 1913 obviously providing the inspiration for Moore’s Standing Woman of 1923) and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (whose Red Stone Dancer of 1913 and Bird Swallowing a Fish of 1914 offered elements for Moore’s Dog of 1922 and Duck of 1927, respectively). Less convincingly, perhaps, she also traces his Reclining Figure of 1929 to a Maya-Toltecan (or Toltec) sculpture. But there is a sort of constant nested story in all this—the early work setting a pattern which applied to later sculptures—in that for instance Christa Lichtenstern points out that if the triangle found on the head of the 1922 Dog is traceable to that on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s Red Stone Dancer, the latter is derived from Cycladic heads, found in some of Gaudier-Brzeska’s drawings. Likewise, she shows the likely analogy in an Aztec Sitting Man of 1325-1521, Epstein’s Sun Goddess, Crouching (c. 1910) and Moore’s Mother and Child of 1922.
From then we move on to a study of the Surrealist Stimuli, followed by a reflection on The Dominance of the Reclining Figure Theme. The exploration of the sculptures is interrupted by a special chapter on The Shelter Drawings: Moore and the Reality of War, 1940-42, which very appropriately (though it is the reconstruction of a scene which never took place because he worked with far more discretion) has the celebrated photograph of him by Lee Miller at Holborn Tube Station as a sort of frontispice. I found the sub-heading on Drapery of especial interest as a novel and very convincing way of insisting on the importance of these drawings in Moore’s evolution.
Christa Lichtenstern’s suggested parallel between Shelter Scene: Two Swathed Figures (1941) and the figure at the top of Blake’s Plate from Jerusalem (1804-1820) may or may not be justified—but such speculation on Moore’s rootedness in the English / British tradition is exactly what the reader expects in the chapter which must have been the most difficult to write owing to the unending debate on what constitutes that elusive tradition—Chapter 7: “Englishness”? A Matter of Definition.
Herbert Read (“English Art”. Burlington Magazine, 63, December 1933), Dagobert Frey (Englisches Wesen in der bildenden Kunst, 1942) and Nikolaus Pevsner (“The Englishness of English Art”, BBC Reith Lecture, 1955) are successively called in as experts because of what they had to write on what she terms Moore’s “innately English interests and legacy”. After a comprehensive, fully-illustrated and magnificently documented exploration of all possible “English” sources (she includes Walter Scott in the list…), she concludes on the indisputable “Englishness” of Moore’s art:
As though under a burning-glass, a variety of crucial influences and interests coalesce. Having grown up in a home with a print of Hunt’s The Light of the World—a seminal, Pre-Raphaelite, religious image that reinforced his own openness to Celtic lineatures and to Blake’s imagery—with fascination for Stonehenge and drawn to English medieval sculpture ever since childhood, Moore’s Englishness was probably at its most evident in his affinity for the Romantics. Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth, Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Turner, Constable and, above all, Blake shaped his deepest understanding of Nature and human beings.
But she hastens to add that this “Englishness” did not preclude a deep interest in what other cultures and civilisations had to offer:
That he also seriously engaged with non-European art, with Greek Antiquity, with Giotto, Giovanni Pisano, Masaccio, Bellini and Michelangelo is a telling reminder of the sheer breadths of his artistic cosmos, that also encompassed an Irish-Anglo-Saxon constant which we have sought to assess and to present in light of its lasting influence on the artist Henry Moore. 
This in fact excellently sums up what we could call Christa Lichtenstern’s agenda: her aim was to show—she claims for the first time—that, “as an artist, he had a highly individual and often theoretically grounded concept of sculpture” . It is always difficult to prove that you are advancing a new idea—but it is clear that her self-imposed remit has been admirably fulfilled.
The text proper (402 fully illustrated pages, printed in double columns) is complemented by a number of very useful sections: a bio-chronology with family photographs and Moore with a number of curators and art historians; 28 pages of copious, scholarly Notes; 17 pages of Bibliography (including a full list of Exhibition Catalogues, 1951-2007); an Index of Names and an Index of Moore’s Sculptures. For once, we can fully concur with the publishers’ “blurb” on the dust jacket: “Rich in new and unpublished material, this magnificent book is a landmark in Henry Moore studies”. There is absolutely no doubt that this superb monograph should be in all University and Art School Libraries, as well as all Departments of British Studies.
(2)Translated from the German by Fiona Elliott & Michael Foster. Original edition: Christa Lichtenstern. Henry Moore : Werk, Theorie, Wirkung. München / Berlin : Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2008.
(3) Christa Lichtenstern naturally takes it for granted that her educated German readership will recognise the allusion. The translators should have added a note indicating that this is a line from Bertolt Brecht's 1933 poem, Deutschland: O Deutschland, bleiche Mutter! / Wie sitzest du besudelt / Unter den Völkern (O Germany, pale mother / How thou sittest sullied / Among the peoples). Henry Moore, like Brecht, was an anti-Fascist / anti-Nazi militant from the start of the "brown peril".
Cercles © 2012