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Left: “Seated Figure” by Henry Moore, 1921 (© The Henry Moore Foundation 2017); right: “Three-Quarter Figure”, 1928, by Henry Moore (photo by Michel Muller, © The Henry Moore Foundation 2017)

An older contemporary of the Ravilious circle at the RCA was Henry Moore, who, having served as the youngest soldier in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles during the war and having been gassed, won a sculpture scholarship there in 1921. Moore and Ravilious were both RCA Travelling Scholars in Florence in 1925. This trip introduced Moore to early Italian wall-painting and sculpture, a revelation that went on to influence his development.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Henry Moore Foundation, an exhibition charting Moore’s genesis as an artist, Becoming Henry Moore, is being presented at both the foundation’s venues, in Leeds and at his house at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. They cover the period 1914 to 1930 and show how, from schoolboy to  art student to fully-fledged artist, Moore developed his own style from looking at older Western art, at African, Aztec and Cycladic art, and at the work of his contemporaries at home and abroad.

The period saw both a rejection of the Renaissance tradition and his adoption of direct carving which eschewed a silky finish and gave precedence to randomness and the marks of the carver’s chisel. Moore was particularly interested in the primitivism evidenced by the work of foreign contemporaries such as Jacob Epstein, Constantin Brancusi, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Picasso.

Moore’s first public commission mirrored the trajectory of the Ravilious group, when in 1928-29 he carved West Wind, a relief for the walls of London Underground’s headquarters at St James’s Park Tube station. It was a rare brush with commerce, however, and thereafter his work took a different direction, towards Surrealism and monumentality and the sort of international renown Ravilious and Co never managed to win. This intriguing exhibition, the faltering and then increasingly secure steps of a major artist in the making, leaves Moore on the brink.

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