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The Art of Seeing is a new way of looking at modern art icon Henry Moore

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Curator Sebastiano Barassi with a portrait of the artist at work and, inset, one of Moore’s sketchbooks Pictures: Vikki Lince
Curator Sebastiano Barassi with a portrait of the artist at work and, inset, one of Moore’s sketchbooks Pictures: Vikki Lince

Modern art master Henry Moore is best known for his sculptures, but he first found fame with his drawings.

A new exhibition at the Perry Green home and studio where he worked on so many of his iconic pieces celebrates this skill.

It is the largest in 40 years with an exclusive focus on his drawings and brings together works from the Henry Moore Foundation’s extensive collections, his family, the Tate, the British and the Imperial War museums for a new generation of art fans.

The Art of Seeing is a journey through Moore’s career - and his life - from a student learning his craft and experimenting with style to an old man, close to death but still a creative force.

The show draws its name from Moore’s own belief: “Drawing, even for people who cannot draw, even for people not trying to produce a good drawing, makes you look more intensely. Just looking alone has no grit in it, has no sort of mental struggle or difficulty. That only happens when you are drawing.”

The show’s curator, Sebastiano Barassi, head of Henry Moore collections and exhibitions, chronicles each decade of the artist’s working life through his drawings and shows visitors some of the influences which shaped its progression.

Portraits of family and friends, pen exercises and imitations of other artist’s work like Picasso and Cezanne show an alternative and much more personal side to Moore than the monumental metal and stone sculptures he is most readily identified with.

Barassi said: “Despite the importance of his drawings, in practice, Moore liked to describe himself as a sculptor so that’s what exhibitions tend to focus on.”

The curator and his team have brought together over 150 examples of the nearly 7,500 drawings Moore produced over seven decades to tell a compelling story. Subjects include portraits friends and family including his own mother, life studies, animals and landscapes. Some works show his experiments with “sectional lines”, a technique he developed to suggest three-dimensionality on a flat sheet of paper and others illustrate his manipulation of photo-collages and photocopies to add structure and texture coupled with unexpected mediums such as felt-tip and marker pens.

It is a rare chance to see such an array in the same place at the same time. “Like any large collection we have clear parameters for the preservation of our artworks and works on paper are particularly vulnerable to damage. There’s always a great pressure not to show the drawings.”

Barassi said: “I think there will be a lot of surprises for people.” Historically, critics have focused on Moore’s early drawings, which formed the foundation for his sculptures, rather than the wealth of work he continued to produce later in his life.

The Art of Seeing begins with Moore, who was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire in 1898, in the 1920s when he was a student. His education had been interrupted by the First World War when he volunteered for the Army and became the youngest recruit of the Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles before being injured in a gas attack in 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai.

Barassi said: “Drawing provided him with a means to explore ideas and study form. In the early years, he was drawing from life at art school.”

A pencil portrait of friend Mrs Raymond Coxon (Edna Ginesi) shows him experimenting with classical techniques while other works show the start of his obsession with the female form, and reclining figures which were to become a constant theme.

“The 1930s is the moment is the moment when drawing becomes his first method to create new ideas for sculpture work.”

The Second World War returned Moore's focus to drawing and brought him international recognition. The National Gallery’s treasures were removed for safekeeping and Moore was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to create two series chronicling wartime Britain to exhibit there.

These were intensely personal for Moore. He moved to Hoglands at Perry Green with wife in 1940 after their Hampstead home was hit by shrapnel. He had married Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the Royal College of Art, in 1929 and the couple had one daughter, Mary, named after Moore’s mother.

His Shelter drawings show Londoners protected from the bombs of the Blitz in Underground stations across the capital. The intense pieces are evocative of the bleak period, but also showcase Moore’s fascination with architectural form, mothers and children and recumbent bodies.

Barassi said: “He goes to the station and he does not draw in front of people, he makes notes and then goes back to Perry Green and starts to fill sketchbooks and sketchbooks with these ideas.”

His Coalmine drawings of the “underground army” echo his own upbringing - his father Raymond was a pit deputy and then under-manager of the Wheldale Colliery in Castleford.

The drawings of the men presented a challenge for Moore whose work always favoured the female form, but he produced works which boosted his reputation internationally, particularly in America.

His work in the 40s also included designs for textiles and fabrics, reflecting his belief that art should be a positive force in everyday life.

During the next decade, sculpture moves to the fore and his drawing is less prolific and includes the halfway house of reliefs while the 60s are consumed by his epic sculptures for the English countryside and public open spaces.

Although Moore continues to draw commercially as the foundation for prints, Barassi said: “This is the moment where his drawing becomes much more personal.”

Moore is experimental and playful, turning a Dürer portrait into a landscape and his own signature into a reclining figure.

As Moore approaches his death in 1986, he is suffering from arthritis. While his illness takes its toll on his technique, his energy and creative appetite are unabated.

Much of his work is a homage to Perry Green with studies of the apple trees and sheep he could see from his own window.

The show is an eloquent epitaph for a great of modern art and a man who lived in and was inspired by the Herts countryside. He even draws his own sculptures in situ in the gardens of Hoglands.

Fittingly the last piece is Moore’s study of his own hands.

Henry Moore Drawing: The Art of Seeing runs until October 27. To mark the launch, the foundation is inviting visitors, schools and anyone who loves to draw to enter a Henry Moore themed drawing competition.

Entries should reflect four favourite themes:

Reclining Figure

Mother and Child

Natural forms

Life Drawing

The competition closes on August 31 and all entries should be submitted on A4 paper or card and may feature any drawing media or technique, including pencil, ink, biro, felt pen, charcoal, chalk, wax crayon, pastel etc.

Coloured washes are permitted but the majority of the artwork submitted must be drawn not painted.

Drawings will be judged in three categories: primary for children aged 11 and under; secondary for those aged 11 to 18; and adult for over 18s.

The judging panel will be led by Sebastiano Barassi and winners and runners up will be exhibited in the visitor centre at Henry Moore Studios and Gardens during October as part of The Big Draw.

For more details see https://www.henry-moore.org/

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