Free «Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth» Essay Sample


Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are two of the most celebrated art sculptors of the 20th century. They are sculptors who have employed art to tell different stories and pass different messages. The two have a history together through their schooling and thus, they exhibit a common understanding within their works. They are English sculptors who have gained international recognition through their works.


Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are recognized as the pioneers of British Modernism. They were both very passionate about sitting their work in the open. Henry Moore is usually described as exceptional and experimental as he together with Barbara became one of the dominant British artists of their generation. Their artistic works are celebrated throughout the whole world for they brought in Modernism to a broad public and caused to a seismic change in sculpture practice. Henry was born 1898 while Barbara was born in 1903. They both attended Leeds school of art where they met and became close friends. Their careers took off in the period of the first-world when the country was experiencing tremendous political, social and artistic upheaval. It was during this period that many artists began assembling new movements of Surrealism and Abstraction. Both Moore and Hepworth began to respond to these changes as they together with other artists, such as Nicholson, founded a group called ‘Unit One’, which grew to become the nucleus of the abstraction movement in England. This was movement was associated with direct and abstract forms.

Indeed, it is not easy to decide who between Moore and Hepworth, influenced the other. Their works are closely connected, sharing the same messages, taking similar forms and always enjoying the same success. For instance, the debate as between the two who discovered the idea of the hole in a sculpture remains unanswered. While Moore takes the credit of introducing the hole in 1932, there is evidence that suggests that Hepworth had works with penetrative openings in sculptures. What is not in doubt however, is the fact that the two have been celebrated for their reconfiguration of sculptural forms. Moore’s early works were angular and rough, and they were strongly influenced by the pre-Columbian art. His work, however, began to incorporate different shapes as he begun to use different materials such as wood, stone and cement which were characterized by smooth, organic shapes and later on included empty hollows. Similarly, Hepworth’s work exhibited great resolution and tension between abstraction and figuration, and also remarkable craftsmanship and a feeling for materials used, form and place. However, in order to have a good understanding of these two sculptors, it is important to examine some of their most famous works (Dame, 1952).

Henry Moore, Mother and Child

The mother and child subject is an important sculpture in the works of Henry Moore. It was not only a recurrent motif in his development as an artistic but an essential subject that gave the personification and recognition in the world of sculpture designs. This subject was critical to the development of the society at the time of its unveiling. It was a subject that both its timing and the message were essential for the continued growth of the nation after going through a difficult period. Indeed, it could be interpreted in both its external and internal aspects, which formed the idea of a reclining female who if she was not pregnant, she was with a child and if she had neither, she had the naturally endowed capacity to become pregnant and bear children. This was the conventional role of the woman in the society, at least before the start of the war. The child was therefore, seen as supplementary to the woman, who was represented by Moore as a lump, prop or hollow. The mother-child subject was accepted into the society as it was a correct reflection of the post-war situation in the country and contained the event-garde distortions of the human body thus expressing the tragedy of the war (Henry & Tate 1951).

This sculpture established Moore’s position in post-war culture as the impact of war on family ties had been severe. Indeed, the family was one unit of the society that had suffered immensely, not just through pain and death but also through compulsory military service and mass evacuations. Thus, this led to the disintegration of the family unit, while the exodus of the family from the urban areas to the country side often ended up separating mothers from their children, and placed families in weird and often nasty environments. This disruption of life negatively impacted on the raising and disciplining of children as the ability of mothers to raise their children was hampered with. The clear picture that came out of this situation was that Great Britain as a country was regarded as a nation that was not capable of educating its working women as homemakers and, to a smaller extent, not able to supply them with material resources necessary to create a decent home. As a result of their men going to fight, many women volunteered to work in the industries in order to replace the spaces left by the men. This led to the change in the roles of women in the society as many of them were employed in the industries and thus leaving their homes; a stereotype thus evolved where women successfully took on roles previously believed to be only suitable for men. However, the major inspiration for Moore’s Mother and Child subject came in the post-war period where the nation was trying to get its life back to ‘normal’. Thus women were going back to perform their traditional duties while the men took up their responsibilities. This was shown in the period between 1945 and 1948, in which there was a noticable increase both in marriages and child births. During this period, more women were getting married at a younger age and those who remained unmarried were few. Consequently, this led to increased birth rate in the country with more children giving birth. Some families as a result grew too big leading to low quality of life (Hepworth, Walker Art Center, Baltimore Museum of Art, Martha Jackson Gallery, 1954).

This therefore, led to a shift in the thinking as more people tried to control the birth rates in their homes in order to raise the standard of living and as a result, the perception of children in the society changed in as far their economic value was concerned. Children were thus viewed as an economic burden and a source of poverty consequently acting as a discouragement to marriage and child bearing. Due to this perception, Moore thus comes up with the mother-child subject to remind the society of the traditional roles of the family. His sculpture is used to reintroduce the conditions of the family and the health of the infant, a time of decline of familial moral principles and values, and a change in an attitude to children. It this message that makes the subject of mother-child particularly important in regards to the post-war period. Moore’s work therefore, provided a general orientation to the approach of the family in as far as the balance of the status of a family and the issue of quality life was concerned (Erich, 1959). His approach proved especially effective as he used a mix of humanism and his expression of hardship, which made him a figurehead for an educative compliment to the government’s measures. He employed an uncommon combination of avant-garde style and human content.

Barbara Hepworth, Two Figures

The two figures by Barbara Hepworth were done in the years of 1954-1955, and they represent a society, which had grown and healed from the wounds of the war and learnt how to work with each other despite their differences. Indeed, the two figures encompass many aspects that Hepworth represented at the time. This was a after a period that she had gone through many personal tribulations and she was in the process of healing thus sculpted these two figures as a representation of the beauty and strength of a human being to heal after going through so much. Indeed, before this time, Hepworth had gone through a divorce and had lost her son, however, she had given up her spirit to always dust herself and move on with her work. These two figures express an understanding that differences between people are there, and that there are no other creatures in the world that would enjoy such close proximity as human beings. Sculpted from the Nigerian hardwood known as the guarea, which is referred to as ‘the most beautiful, hard, lovely warm timber’, goes to show the character that Barbara attributes to human beings (Hepworth, 1946). These two figures therefore, were an attempt by the artist to fuse geometry and nature and be able to produce the distinctive natural characters of humans and thus, telling a story through the art of sculpturing. These figures thus had the result of aligning her to the new generation of post war sculptors who were the artists of the so-called “geometry of fear”. She was also active within and on behalf of the modernist artistic community during its period of post-war international prominence. She, thus, represented a link with pre-war ideals in a climate of social and physical reconstruction. Thus the two figures are showing the working in close proximity of two separate times in as far as the pre-war artists and the post-war artists are concerned. This is important as the story that is told through the artists eyes has to be complete, relevant and credible. The teak sculpture from the two figures is composed of two vertical forms that are situated on a platform and punctuated by white-painted circular concavities. The two figures thus represent a time when war was no longer in existence and many countries had accepted to work with one another. They demonstrate how abstract forms can evoke figure and nature just by telling a story that resonates with the audience. They are a representation of the health state of the economy, the acceptance of the familial values into the society and the provision of education to every member of the society.

Similarities and Differences

Through the careful study of these two pieces of works by the two artists a number of similarities and differences is revealed. Naturally, it is usually difficult to separate Moore and Hepworth; however, these two pieces of work can go some way in showing how the two differed in their works. Firstly, one of the most notable differences in the two pieces of work is the method or style used in the sculpture. Even though both Moore and Hepworth are among the artists credited with the experiments of carving stone, Moore completely employs the method of modelling to come up with the sculpture as shown above. In sculpturing, there are two methods which can be employed, which are modelling and direct carving. Modelling is the more traditional method with which the sculptor develops a sculpture through building up form while direct carving is the process of sculpturing that involves the subtractive technique of producing sculptures. Moore’s figure, as shown above, is sculpted through modelling where content is added to the image until it informs the desired work of the artist, hence the name additive method. Barbara on the hand employs the method of direct carving in the figures as shown above (Henry & Herbert 1944). The two figures have been carefully carved to produce the images as targeted by the artist. The difference in the style and the method employed in the sculpturing of the two figures is indicative of the time, in which the two were produced. However, it is also indicative of the rigidity of Moore to change with the changing times and to employ more modern methods of sculpture production.

Secondly, another difference is in the subject matter that the sculptures are intended to address. The two items are addressing similar issues but in a different way; while Moore addresses the issues of the society from a familial point of view, Hepworth is approaching the same issues from an individual point of view. Indeed, during Moore’s time, the society was suffering in sorts of manner, lack of proper education, security, family disintegrations and political turmoil in a post-war nation. He came up with sculptures to show how all these issues affected the society from a family’s point of view. Hepworth on the hand used her two figures to show a society that had solved its problems, a society that had learned to work together despite the many differences that they had. The two figures reflected a time when the state of the economy was sound, countries could trade with other (hence the use of timber from Nigeria) and the society was an educated one. In this way, the two artists used different methods to address the issues that had and were still bedevilling the society.

The differences in the time of the two arts are also captured in a number of ways. Firstly, the type of the materials that the two artists used is telling of the time difference. Moore predominantly uses stone and wood in his mother-child subject to express his message. The quality of the wood is also shown to be that good as the final product is left wanting in some respects. This in itself highlighted a period when the country was still recovering from the effects of the war and thus there were very limited materials. However, during the time of Hepworth, that is 1954-1955, during which the two figures were prepared, the quality of the material used is telling to the observer (Alan, 1996). She used wood that was imported from Nigeria and thus, the quality is unquestionable as every aspect of the sculpture is clearly brought out in her work. This is indicative of a time when the countries of the world had begun to work together and thus, exchanged materials and other products.

Thus, the similarity between the two artists is the use of humanism in their works. The two use their sculptures to tell stories of human beings, thereby providing a different approach to highlighting the plight of human beings. This is a major similarity that shows their common understanding of the purpose of art which is to help solve social problems through creative analysis of human behaviour and conduct. It is this aspect that is particularly impossible to pull the two artists apart. They are able to appreciate the human character throughout their artistic work and thus being distinctive in their work.


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