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Henry Moore Foundation celebrates 80 years since world-famous sculptor moved to Perry Green where guests included Julie Andrews, T S Eliot, Princess Margaret, Graham Greene and W H Auden

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The Henry Moore Foundation is celebrating 80 years of the master of modern art in east Hertfordshire.

Today, the Yorkshire miner's son is widely recognised as one of the most important artists of the 20th century and the most influential British sculptor of the modern era, changing the way the human body was seen and setting his works in nature. His monumental bronzes grace civic squares around the world.

He moved to Perry Green, near Much Hadham, in September 1940 with his Ukrainian-born wife Irina to escape the Blitz in London as his career began to take off.

Henry and Irina Moore at Hoglands in 1945-46
Henry and Irina Moore at Hoglands in 1945-46

During the Second World War, his ability to make sculpture was limited; instead, his now-famous Shelter Drawings of figures in the Underground during air raids secured his popular reputation.

Moore was born in Yorkshire in 1898 and enlisted in the Army, fighting in the First World War. He used his ex-serviceman grant to enrol at art school, first in Leeds from 1919 to 1921 and then at London's Royal College of Art until 1924.

The bluff Northerner and Irina stayed with a friend near Much Hadham during the first weeks of the Blitz and, upon returning to London, found that their Hampstead flat and studio had been damaged in a bombing raid, so they went back to this now much-loved area of the countryside, renting part of a 17th-century farmhouse called Hoglands, less than 30 miles from London.

Portrait of the Artist at Work (42288795)
Portrait of the Artist at Work (42288795)

It was near enough to the capital for Moore to commute – spending the night in the shelters studying his subjects and returning to Perry Green in the day to complete the drawings.

Initially, the move was intended to be temporary, as Moore wrote to his friend Jane Clark, wife of Sir Kenneth Clark, then director of the National Gallery in London: "We're here at a village called Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. Do you know this part? It's surprisingly pretty and unspoilt for so near to London (27 miles). I think we may stay here for some time.

"We've taken a house here that happened to be to let – or rather it's half a house, but self-contained and Irina has the full use and control of the very neglected garden which she's enjoying playing about in and trying to put into order – although it will be a long time before there can be any results from her efforts and by then we may no longer be here.

"It's easy to get to London and I go up once or twice each week when there's anything to be seen to – and perhaps also out of morbid curiosity, and a strange subdued excitement there is being in London now.

"We're beginning to feel more or less settled down here and I've got back to some drawing and I am enjoying it. I've joined the Home Guard here and go out on night duty, patrolling the country lanes twice a week."

Henry and Irina, who was born in Kiev, immediately felt at home and bought the property the following year when it unexpectedly became available. The deposit was provided by the timely sale of Moore's sculpture Reclining Figure.

A move that had begun as necessary turned into an opportunity, and the Moores remained in Perry Green for the rest of their lives.

Moore acquired more land, piece by piece, adding more studios. The estate, now Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, covers over 70 acres and remains an important record to how he worked and lived.

The life, work and home of Henry Moore are inseparable, each shaping the other. In 1977, he created the Henry Moore Foundation so members of the public could visit.

This was indicative of the openness and generosity with which he approached people throughout his life. Each collector, friend, client or student met Moore the man in his home, amid his collections, before experiencing the studios, work and grounds.

Throughout his career he worked with a number of dealers in the UK and America, but, despite being courted, he always resisted signing an exclusive contract.

His home consequently became his primary space for meetings. In the process of developing his work for the Lincoln Centre in New York (1963-65), the commissioning team made more than six visits to Hoglands and the architect Gordon Bunshaft became a close friend, often flying in just in time for Sunday lunch with the family.

Other notable guests included The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins actress Julie Andrews, writers T S Eliot and Graham Greene, poet W H Auden, the Queen's sister Princess Margaret, fellow artists Joan Miró, Mark Rothko and Cubism pioneer Georges Braque, art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim, photographer and photojournalist Lee Miller and architects Erno Goldfinger, I M Pei and Sir Denys Lasdun.

The 80th anniversary coincides with Hertfordshire's Year of Culture 2020, a year-long festival celebrating the creative heart of a county which greatly influenced Moore's work.

He said: "I think the fact that we have lived here since 1941 [1940] was very fortunate for me and for the development of my work. Gradually we were able to acquire further areas where I can place and relate my sculptures to the landscape."

He told John Hedgecoe in 1968 how his home was also the perfect backdrop for his work.

"Without that piece of ground, I cannot imagine how I could have produced some of the large sculptures that I have done in the last 10 years.

"If a large sculpture has to be made in a studio it would be impossible to get away from it, and I would tend to work on its surface rather than on its bigger architectural forms.

"In our garden, I can place the sculptures and see what they look like from a distance and in all weather conditions."

Moore died in 1986 and Irina passed away three years later. Both were buried in Perry Green's St Thomas' Church.

For more details on how to visit their home, see https://www.henry-moore.org/ .

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