Henry Moore 1898 - 1986

Provenance

Leicester Galleries, London.
Marlborough Fine Art, London

Private Collection, purchased from above in 1963

Exhibitions

London, Marlborough Fine Art,Watercolours and Drawings by Oskar Kokoschka, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, September 1962, cat no.44

Literature

David Sylvester,Henry Moore, London, 1949, pl. 194.
Anne Garrould (ed.),Henry Moore, Complete Drawings: 1940-49, Vol. 3, Much Hadham, 2001, p101, AG 41.85, HMF 1836, illus

Description

“You have taken things into your own hands. You have taken shelter in the tubes. Quite right too. Over 1000 Londoners have been killed, 4000 wounded because the Government refused to build bomb-proof shelters. Certain Cabinet Ministers have sent their children and relatives to America. The rich have safe funk-holes in the country and luxury shelters in hotels and flats in the West End. Sit tight, refuse to leave the Tubes till they build bomb-proof shelters…” 1

Henry Moore’s shelter drawings were created over a short yet intense period of activity, which began shortly after the first bombs fell on London in the autumn of 1940 and continued through to the summer of 1941. 2 It resulted in the creation of over 300 drawings; 160 contained in two sketchbooks, another 80 produced on loose sheets and a number of drawings on larger sheets of paper which were created at the request of the War Artists Advisory Committee. The Committee would purchase 31 of these works throughout the course of the war, exhibiting them regularly in the National Gallery and as part of various touring exhibitions throughout the country and, in some cases, abroad. 3

The WAAC’s ownership and promotion of some of these drawings brought Moore a great deal of public recognition which was at odds with the initially private nature with which he had embarked on the project. Indeed, when Moore first began making his sketches of the sleeping figures that filled the London Underground tunnels the only person he told was his wife Irina. Moore first encountered these improvised ‘shelters’ by chance during a raid on the evening of the 11th September. He and Irina had, unusually, decided to take the Underground into town and during their trip they were shocked to see stations filled with people. On their arrival to Belsize Park the couple were told they were not allowed to leave the station and so they remained. As Moore recalls,

“We stayed there for an hour and I was fascinated by the sight of people camping out deep under the ground. I had never seen so many reclining figures and even the holes out of which the trains were coming seemed to me like the holes in my sculpture. And there were intimate little touches. Children fast asleep, with trains roaring past only a couple of yards away. People who were obviously strangers to one another forming tight little intimate groups. They were cut off what was happening up above, but they were aware of it. There was tension in the air.” 4

Moore produced his first shelter drawing, Women and Children in the Tube, (Fig.1, Imperial War Museum) the next day. The naturalism of this drawing marks a shift in Moore’s style, from the surrealist shapes that he had been experimenting with in the years immediately preceding the war to a more ‘humanist’ and traditional approach to form. Similarly, his thematic concerns shifted and many of the shelter drawings such as Two Women and Children, 1941 explore the universal themes of family and community, often presenting mothers with their children or people clustered into groups. Indeed, as Moore commented, “Without the war, which directed one to life itself… I think I would have been a far less sensitive and responsible person – if I had ignored all that and went on working just as before. The war brought out and encouraged the humanist side in one’s work.” 5 The compositions of these drawings would later find their three-dimensional equivalent in some of the first works that Moore created after returning to sculpture in 1943, such as Madonna and Child, 1943 (Fig.2) and Family Group, 1944 (Fig.3).

Conscious not to intrude upon the shelterers’ privacy during his trips underground, Moore would leave his drawing materials at home and instead silently observe life in the make-shift shelters, making short notes in a small pocket book that he carried with him, returning home at dawn to execute a number of drawings from memory. Often combining several experiences in a single drawing, Moore created archetypal figures rather than individual portraits of the inhabitants of the shelters, transforming them from recognisable individuals into idol-like figures that embody the common experience of suffering and resilience amongst the civilian population in London during the war. For Moore, these figures acted “…a bit like the chorus in a Greek drama, telling us about the violence we don’t actually witness.” 6 Indeed, Moore’s profound knowledge of the history of art also came to the fore during this period and as he noted, “The Italian trip (in 1925) and the Mediterranean tradition came once more to the surface.” 7

The Mediterranean tradition, which Moore understood as a shared vision of the world that ran from archaic cultures to the Renaissance of Giotto and Masaccio, is present in these drawings in the monumentality and heroic solemnity of nameless figures presented as universal signifiers of broader themes of human suffering and experience. The blankets and shawls used to warm these figures as they huddle in the tube stations, are depicted draped over their bodies in a classical manner and descriptive detail is removed so that these images transcend contemporary settings and are imbued with a sense of timelessness and poignancy.

In works such as Two Women and Children, Moore captures not only the intense atmosphere of the shelters, but also the sense of community that thrived there, as people from all walks of life and social status bonded in their common drive to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. A recurring motif in his Shelter Drawings was the interaction of women in these spaces, often shown in small groups of two or three, sitting alongside one another while an oppressive darkness threatens to envelope them. Here, two seated women are shown side by side, the young children placed prominently on their laps identifying them as a pair of young mothers. Their bodies turn towards one another, creating the impression that they are a single, connected unit, caught in mid-conversation. There is a sense of intimacy to their connection, and yet the slight gap between them suggests that they are not close relatives or friends, but rather two individuals drawn together by the commonalities of their experiences. In this way, Two Mothers and Children may be seen as a reflection on the importance of such friendships in these environments, where the comfort of conversation and a sense of community, helped people to endure the nightly terror and fear that accompanied the bombing. Driven by a common need to protect their children, Moore’s two women eloquently embody the sense of fraternity that underpinned life in the underground shelters, and represent the city’s spirit of endurance that allowed them to survive the war.

1. An excerpt from a Communist Party leaflet distributed on the 17th September 1940
2. Bombs began to fall on south London in the middle of August and in the night of the 22-3 August the first bomb fell on central London. The 7th September marked the beginning of what became known as the Big Blitz, which would continue until the end of May 1941.
3. Moore began his shelter drawings as a personal project and it was not until January 1941 that he agreed to Kenneth Clark’s proposal to the artist for the WAAC’s purchase of some of Moore’s larger drawings.
4. Reproduced in Julian Andrews, London’s War, The Shelter Drawings of Henry Moore, Lund Humphries, Hampshire, 2002, p36
5. The artist quoted in Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, Faber and Faber, London, 1987, p 176
6. Moore, quoted in Andrew Wilson, Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p 261
7. Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, Tate Gallery, London, exhibition catalogue, 1977, p36