Henry moore

Can we know an artist by their house?

Show me your downstairs loo and I will tell you who you are. Better yet, show me your kitchen, bedroom, billiard room and man cave. Can we know a man – or woman – by their house? The ‘footsteps’ approach to biography argues that to really understand a subject, a biographer must visit his childhood home, his prep-school boarding house, his student digs, his down-and-out bedsit and so on through barracks, shacks, flats, garrets, terraces, townhouses and final Georgian-rectory resting-place. Walk a mile in their shoes – then put on their carpet slippers. So, to know Horace Walpole, we board the 33 bus to Strawberry Hill. For Henry Moore, it’s

Why Tate Modern seems more like a playground than an art gallery

This book covers the period 1878-2000, offering thought provoking commentary on some 120 years of experiments in being modern, and begins with the famous court case after John Ruskin accused James Whistler of ‘flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’. But Michael Bird does not limit his perspective to a single artist or cause per chapter. Part of the deep appeal of his writing is the range of reference across literature and art, bringing in key historical events where appropriate. He does a superb job of connecting and deftly summoning context, always seeking to illuminate the larger picture. And he stitches apt quotation through the text, returning to

Fails to dispel the biggest myth of all: Whitechapel Gallery’s A Century of the Artist’s Studio reviewed

Picture the artist’s studio: if what comes to mind is the romantic image of a male painter at his easel in a grand interior with an admiring audience and a nude model at his elbow, you’re in the wrong century for the Whitechapel Gallery. Its new exhibition, A Century of the Artist’s Studio, runs from 1920 to 2020, and there’s precious little romance about it. To be honest, the studio was never that romantic; Gustave Courbet’s ‘The Artist’s Studio’ (1855), the main source of the stereotype, was itself a send-up. The Whitechapel’s show sets out to complete Courbet’s work, dismantling the myth cliché by cliché. ‘The artist hero… is both

How St Ives became Barbara Hepworth’s spiritual home

‘To see a world in a grain of sand’, to attain the mystical perception that Blake advocated, requires a concentrated, fertile imagination. Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), one of the leading and most popular British sculptors of the 20th century, fervently imagined that her works expressed cosmic grandeur and her own spiritual aspirations. In the foreword to this thoughtful and enjoyable biography, Ali Smith testifies that Hepworth was ‘fiercely intelligent’, while its author, Eleanor Clayton, candidly declares: ‘I write as a curator who loves the artist she presents, a fan writing of her hero.’ Her research shows how frequently the sculptures convey ‘concepts [Hepworth] considered universal and eternal’. Clayton, eminently qualified as

Bright and beautiful: the year’s best art books reviewed

When he was a student, the celebrated American modernist master Robert Rauschenberg once told me that his ‘greatest teacher’ — Josef Albers — would proclaim ‘art is svindle’ in heavily accented English at least ten times a day. By that provocative remark Albers probably meant not so much that art was a cheat but that intellectualising about it is usually bogus. He once thanked his lucky stars that his father was a painter-decorator rather than an intellectual. For him it involved simple forms, clear colours and no nonsense. Albers and his equally brilliant wife are the subject of a remarkable and visually beautiful joint biography, Anni & Josef Albers by

Let there be light | 2 May 2019

Henry Moore was, it seems, one of the most notable fresh-air fiends in art history. Not only did he prefer to carve stone outside — working in his studio felt like being in ‘prison’ — but he felt the sculpture came out better that way too, in natural light. What’s more, he believed that the finished works looked at their best in the open air. This last idea is tested in a new exhibition, Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration — and it turns out that the artist was absolutely right. This — the latest in an enterprising series of shows at this north Norfolk mansion — is

An artist of the quickening world

What is it about Yorkshire, particularly Leeds, that it has bred or trained such a succession of famous modern sculptors? Moore, Hepworth, Armitage and, although it stretches the point, Hirst. All attended Leeds art schools and Armitage was born there on 18 July 1916. Everyone knows Moore, Hepworth, Hirst. But Armitage? How many under 60 remember him? Conventional opinion confines his relevance to the 1950s. The Kenneth Armitage Foundation (of which I was a trustee) has marked his centenary with an overdue restoration. There have been two books — Kenneth Armitage Sculptor, edited by Ann Elliott, and The Sculpture of Kenneth Armitage by James Scott — and three exhibitions. The

Romancing the stones

If Britain’s prehistoric monuments have had a magnetic attraction for generations of artists, it is perhaps because they have long been seen as works of art themselves. ‘The whole temple of Avebury may be consider’d as a picture’, enthused the antiquary William Stukeley in 1743, while ‘my God how sculptural’ was Barbara Hepworth’s response to Cornish sites such as the Mên-an-Tol and the Nine Maidens which she encountered after moving to St Ives in 1939. The creative tension between artists and these mysterious presences in the landscape is the subject of Sam Smiles’s engaging book British Art: Ancient Landscapes, published to accompany an exhibition at the Salisbury Museum (until 3

In the shadow of Picasso

‘My painting is an act of decolonisation,’ declared Wifredo Lam. These are the first words you read on entering the retrospective of his work at Tate Modern. But I must say that both Lam and Tate got this statement 100 per cent back to front. On the contrary, Lam’s work strikes me as entirely a product of colonialism. It’s none the worse for that, but it’s not any better either. Lam (1902–1982) was originally from Cuba. His father, Enrique Lam-Yam, had emigrated from China and his mother, Ana Serafina, was of mixed African and Spanish descent. He was, in other words, a rather typical inhabitant of the new world. And

Estate agent

A big misunderstanding about art is that it excites serene meditation and transcendent bliss. But anyone who has worked in a public museum or a commercial gallery knows that this is untrue. The moral climate of the contemporary art world would embarrass the Borgias. Art excites peculation, speculation, back-stabbing, front-stabbing and avarice while fuelling nasty spats about attribution and ownership between heirs, relatives, executors and collectors. Nowhere is this more comically apparent than in the matter of artists’ estates. Once a private concern of family and lawyers, the ‘artist’s estate’ is becoming recognised as a tangible and valuable entity that needs professional management just like any other financial asset. Art

Public offence

[audioplayer src=”http://rss.acast.com/viewfrom22/fightingovercrumbs-euroscepticsandtheeudeal/media.mp3″ title=”Stephen Bayley and Posy Metz from Historic England discuss public artwork” startat=1206] Listen [/audioplayer]There are, as adman David Ogilvy remarked, no monuments to committees. (That’s not quite true; Auguste Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’ — you can find a version in Victoria Tower Gardens — is somewhat collectivist in subject matter.) But there are certainly abundant monuments to the committee mentality, the bureaucratic spirit and art-world groupthink. That is what most contemporary ‘public art’ amounts to. You will have seen ‘public art’ if you wander through developments of luxury apartments on, say, the southbank Thames littoral between Lambeth and Battersea. Or on a progressive university campus anywhere. Sometimes public

Touchy-feely – not

‘The eye is fatigued, perverted, shallow, its culture is degenerate, degraded and obsolete.’ Welcome to the Palpable Art Manifesto of Romanian sculptor Paul Neagu. Art must be accessible to all the senses, he argued, for ten fingers will explain more than two eyes and the tongue might tell yet more again. His Palpable Sculpture is the focus of an exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute that itself ‘ascends to the condition of a work of art’, according to the Scottish artist and gallerist Richard Demarco. His opinion carries weight, for it was he who brought Neagu out of Romania in 1969 to exhibit and teach in Edinburgh. A succession of


In the last two decades of her life, Barbara Hepworth was a big figure in the world of art. A 21-foot bronze of hers stands outside the UN headquarters in New York, emblematic of her friendship with secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld — a Hepworth collector — and of her international fame. This was how a modern monument looked half a century ago: abstract but organic, romantic but starkly simplified. Since Hepworth’s death, however, her status has become less clear: was she a towering giant of modern sculpture or relatively minor, a slightly dreary relic of post-war Britain? Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World at Tate Britain does not quite supply

Are the British too polite to be any good at surrealism?

The Paris World’s Fair of 1937 was more than a testing ground for artistic innovation; it was a battleground for political ideologies. The Imperial eagle spread its wings over the German Pavilion; the Soviet hammer swung above the Russian Pavilion; and the Spanish Pavilion unveiled Picasso’s shocking monument to the civilian dead of the bombed city of Guernica, raising the clenched fist of the Spanish Republic in the capital of non-interventionist France. Not everyone was convinced by ‘Guernica’ as art. Anthony Blunt in The Spectator commended Picasso’s political gesture but dismissed the painting as ‘the expression of a private brainstorm’. Piqued on the artist’s behalf, the British surrealist Roland Penrose,

‘Uproar!’ The Ben Uri gallery punches above its weight

Last year saw the centenary of the London Group, a broad-based exhibiting body set up in a time of stylistic ferment in the art world as an independent alternative to the closed shops of the academies. Formed from the amalgamation of the Allied Artists’ Association and the Camden Town Group, it boasted such notable founder members as Lucien Pissarro and Walter Sickert, while Jacob Epstein is credited with naming it. Inevitably, the London Group has gone through innumerable highs and lows in its 100-year history, yet the mere fact that it still exists is testament to the enduring need for such an independent collective. The Ben Uri, itself an outsider

Yorkshire: England’s sculptural heartland in the north

I am standing on the deserted shop floor of a Victorian mill in Wakefield, with the industrial history of Yorkshire spread out before me like a map. Down below, the River Calder, once so busy, is now a leisurely, peaceful place. Children play beside the water. There are fishermen on the banks. It’s a lot prettier than it used to be. It’s also a lot less businesslike. But among these redundant warehouses, a strange renaissance is taking place. This derelict mill reopened last month — not as a factory but as a new annex of the Hepworth, a museum that has welcomed nearly a million visitors in its first two

Compare and contrast Rodin and Moore

One generation is usually so busy reacting against its predecessors that it can take years for a balanced appreciation of real and relative merits to emerge. Henry Moore was born in 1898, and Rodin didn’t die until 1917, but they never met. All his life Moore was aware of Rodin’s work, and although early on he made apprentice works influenced by Rodin, it was only when he had established his own territory as an artist that he could afford to look long and admiringly at the senior artist. Indeed, Moore came to value his work so highly that he included four sculptures and three drawings by Rodin in his own