Modernist legend Henry Moore and his muse Irina Radetsky

16 August, 2021

Sculptor and innovator Henry Moore is a true British legend. Most of his work was devoted to female figures, with his beloved wife Irina Radetsky being his muse for 60 years. In his paintings, he skilfully conveyed the realities of war and at the same time advocated for the triumph of life, weaving his sculptures into the natural landscape. Moore also loved to draw fluffy sheep, which became for him a symbol of the vastness of his native England. In honour of the great artist’s birthday, Afisha.London magazine recalls the landmark stages in Henry Moore’s life and the peculiarities of his “fluid” works.

 

For over 70 years, Henry Moore’s art has been considered to be of the highest craftsmanship, and it is now highly regarded around the world. In 1948, the artist received the International Prize for his Reclining Figure sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and in 1949 he was declared the greatest sculptor of the 20th century. Today, the value of Henry Moore’s work is only growing: in 2012, one of the five copies of the legendary Reclining Figure was sold at Christie’s in London for £19.1 million, making Moore the second most expensive artist of the 20th century after the expressionist Francis Bacon. In 2016, another version of the same sculpture set a new price record and left the auction for £24.7 million. Without a doubt, Moore is one of the most influential figures in modern art, but he also is a prime example of how a timid childhood dream can turn into a deafening success and worldwide recognition.

 

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A young romantic in life and at war

It seems that all great personalities knew their destiny already in their childhood, at least that is exactly what happened with the young Henry Moore. The future sculptor was born on July 30, 1898 in the family of a miner in the town of Castleford in West Yorkshire. Already at the age of 11, he was inspired by the works of Michelangelo and cherished the dream of becoming a great sculptor, but fate decreed that first he had to face the First World War. As Moore himself recalls, he went through the war in a romantic haze in an attempt to become a hero. He became the youngest member of the Prince of Wales’s rifle regiment and even was gassed at the famous Battle of Cambrai in France. Many years later, during World War II, he would radically change his mind and consider war anti-life. He will convey a new perception of the confident triumph of life in his sculptures, which organically wove into the landscape and seemed like they were created by nature itself.

 

 

So far, however, Moore was only in the beginning of the path towards forming his own style, which now has no analogues in the world. As a former military man, he received a grant to continue his education, in 1919 he entered the Leeds School of Art (now Leeds Arts University), and then continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London. After graduation, he visited northern Italy, which had a huge influence on him, and Paris, where he became interested in a copy of the Toltec figures of Chock Mool, which became an inspiration for his work. After returning home, Moore stayed at the college to work as a teacher in the department of sculpture, and it was during this period — from 1924 to 1932 — that the first glimpses of his original style appeared, while his main materials were stone and wood. Life in London in the 1920s allowed the artist to plunge headlong into past eras and move away from the classics persistently praised by his academic mentors. He enthusiastically visited the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate and the ethnographic exhibitions of the British Museum; studied the ancient art of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mexico of the pre-Columbian period, admiring the plasticity of ancient civilizations.

 


Meeting his muse and a new life

Working at the Royal College of Art connected Henry with his future wife, Irina Radetsky, who was his student. Irina was born into a Russian-Polish family in 1907 in Kiev and then studied at a ballet school in Moscow, but during the revolution in Russia in 1917 she lost her father and was forced to follow her mother to Paris, where she married a British officer. Irina ended up in Great Britain when she moved to the relatives of her stepfather in Buckinghamshire. Her acquaintance with Moore coincided with his first solo exhibition in 1928 at the Warren Gallery in London. In those years, art was still experiencing the conservative romanticism of the Victorian era, and many accusations flew towards the young sculptor for the immorality of his creations and the distortion of human forms. However, in spite of everything, the sculptor continued to go his own way, feeling that he was creating a completely new style, carrying a powerful vital energy, free from the shackles of classical traditions.

 

 

Moore drew inspiration from the forms of the female figure, and his Ukrainian beloved became his constant model. His artistic gaze compared the female body with a natural landscape, where the knees and chest resembled mountains, the ovals of the shoulders and hips were hills, and the voids symbolised caves. One of his most famous female sculptures is Reclining Figure, made in five copies from different materials. The bronze version of the sculpture was first exhibited on the South Bank as part of the British Festival in 1951 and is now housed in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Meanwhile, Moore’s romance with his first and only muse Irina quickly grew into a strong union, and in 1929 the couple got married. After the wedding, they moved to a studio in Hampstead at 11a Parkhill Road, where they lived until 1940, as a blue plaque on the house now reminds the occasional passer-by. At that time, Hampstead, with its huge park and a countryside atmosphere, was a haven for avant-garde artists, to which Henry Moore and his wife belonged. Interestigly, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova also lived in this area.

 

Henry Moore at work in his studio in Hampstead. Photo: Henry Moore Foundation

 


Another war and new artistic findings

The Second World War made several adjustments to the measured life of the artist — in 1940 a bomb hit their house in Hampstead and the couple moved to Hertfordshire. However, it was during this period that Henry Moore gained fame as a war artist and became popular outside the UK: his graphic sketches are scattered around the world, depicting Londoners who took refuge from Nazi bombings in the gloomy tunnels of the London Underground in 1940-41. Then, as a result of the bombing in the British capital, about ten thousand civilians were killed, and with the help of a series of sketches called Shelter Drawings Moore appealed to the public with a request for solidarity. In 2011, some of the sketches were shown at the exhibition Blitz and Blockade — Henry Moore at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where curators drew parallels between Moore’s wartime graphics and drawings made by the architect Alexander Nikolsky, created in the basements of the Hermitage during the blockade of Leningrad.

 

 

After the birth of his daughter Mary in 1946, Henry returned to his favourite themes — female figures and motherhood, which for him was a reference to the Madonna and Child. One of the versions of this motif in Moore’s oeuvre — the surreal marble sculpture Madonna and Child — can be seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Another source of inspiration for the artist was, oddly enough, fluffy sheep. The village of Perry Green in Hertfordshire, where Moore settled with his family, delighted him with spacious pastures, on which sheep freely grazed. The artist once watched from the window of his workshop how sheep wandered around, so he knocked on the window, attracting the attention of one of them. The sheep raised its head for a couple of moments, and Moore managed to make a sketch, which marked the beginning of his series of sketches and drawings of sheep, which then turned into sculptures. But, perhaps, one of the brightest and most romantic creations of Moore’s was and remains to this day the bronze sculpture King and Queen (1952), the inspiration behind which was an important stage in the history of Great Britain — the death of the beloved king George VI and Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. The models for the sculpture were the artist himself and his wife Irina, while the inspiration was the double statues of men and women from Ancient Egypt, symbolising stability and wisdom. The sculpture had six casts and one of them is on display at Tate Britain.

 

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Calm life at Perry Green

Henry Moore lived at the Perry Green estate for almost half a century and gradually turned the surrounding area into the largest example of British public art. His wife Irina enthusiastically worked on landscape design for the garden near their home, while Moore created his bizarre metal and stone sculptures, weaving them into the surrounding elements. Today the estate has been restored and retains the same look it had under the owner: Moore’s modest brick house, a flower garden with sculptures and a quiet village life. From March 31 to October 31, Perry Green is open to the public: guests can explore the artist’s workshops and home, stroll through the famous garden gallery and take in over 70 acres of gardens and fields surrounding the artist’s monumental creations. In the former house of Moore, the headquarters of his personal fund is also based, which the sculptor founded during his lifetime, appointing his wife and daughter Mary as trustees. On August 31, 1986, Henry Moore passed away at the age of 88 in Perry Green, then the richest and most accomplished sculptor in the world.

 

 

While walking around London, it is easy to accidentally come across one of the monuments created by Moore: his stone Arch rises above Kensington Gardens, the Locking Piece is located on the embankment near Tate Britain, and another famous sculpture — Knife Edge Two Piece — is located opposite the House of Lords of the British Parliament. The Russian public was able to appreciate the entire palette of the artist’s work only in 2012, when on February 21, a full-fledged Henry Moore retrospective, which consisted of works from the collections of his personal fund, the Tate, the British Museum and some private collections, was first opened at the Moscow Kremlin Museums. The guest of honour at the opening event was the daughter of the sculptor, Mary Moore.

 

 

Irina Latsio/Liya Shapiro

Cover photo: Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons

 

 


Read more:

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