ALTHOUGH he is most renowned for his sculptures, the late master Henry Moore was also a highly gifted printmaker.
His interest in the art form began after the First World War and continued to the end of his life, forming an increasingly important part of his output from the 1970s, when he worked with specialist printers and publishers internationally to meet growing demand for his graphic designs. These exquisite and highly collectable editions, the focus of an extensive new exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, are a prized part of the Institute's collection of Moore's work on paper.
Many of the etchings and lithographs in these deluxe publications were conceived to accompany the work of selected poets – W H Auden, Stephen Spender, Charles Baudelaire and Lawrence Durrell, for example – or to illustrate the work of writers such as Shakespeare, Dante and Andre Gide. Others were made as tributes to fellow artists such as Picasso, Max Ernst, Joan Miro and Mark Rothko. In some cases the books are dedicated to exploring Henry Moore's special interests, and these include Elephant Skull, Stonehenge, The Artist's Hand, Mother and Child and Trees.
For 25 years after the artist's death in 1986, nothing was done with this massive collection, which includes preparatory sketches and studies showing the genesis of many of Moore's finest graphic works. The material was simply kept in storage. Then the new show's co-curator David Mitchinson, the graphic artist who was Moore's assistant for 30 years and became head of collections and exhibitions at the Henry Moore Foundation, put together a catalogue of this important body of work which is now published alongside the show.
Friends who had brought back an elephant's skull from Africa gave it to Moore, and it became the artist's favourite 'object', says Mitchinson. A series of 33 etchings were made of the skull, seven of which can be seen here.
"It was a source of endless inspiration. He studied if from every conceivable angle, as a whole object or looking at some small detail of its hollows and shapes within it," says Mitchinson. As with much of the work here, these profoundly satisfying studies find resonance in the sculpture; the two media were always closely intertwined.
The increasing interest in graphic art in the last three decades of his life in no way meant a diminution in interest in sculpture, says the curator. "The exploration of different media happened in tandem, although when Moore was really ill in the last three years of his life, all of his work slowed down.
"What happened with the etching and printmaking was that from the 1960s onwards new pigments became available, as well as new media such as felt-tip pen. He could replay old black-and-white ideas in colour or express new ideas inspired by the new medium. He never threw anything away, even keeping as a source of reference all of his youthful sketchbooks".
For both the ordinary art lover and the serious student of Moore's oeuvre, it's thrilling to see the preparatory drawings, proofs and final versions of graphic ideas, with the artist's notes to himself scattered around the borders of early versions, and different colour combinations trialled before arriving at the perfect palette. The characteristic recurring themes are there, including many reclining human figures and the mother and child motif which he interpreted in thousands of ways in his long career.
"His reputation has never been higher, with exhibitions going on simultaneously all over the world. Right now the retrospective is showing in Toronto then coming to Leeds, and a drawing show is on in Paris, while an exhibition of Moore's plaster work is happening in Paris".
Alongside Prints and Portfolios (which complements the forthcoming retrospective of Moore's work in at the HMI in March), in the Mezzanine Gallery, Dear Henry Moore: Connections and Correspondence, looks at Moor's associations with a younger generation of sculptors, including letters, papers, drawings and sculptures by Anthony Caro, Isaac Witkin, Ralph Brown, Hubert Dalwood and Geoffrey Clark.
Henry Moore Prints and Portfolios is at The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, until April 3. Information: 0113 246 7467 www.henry-moore.org/hmi David Mitchinson's book Henry Moore: Prints and Portfolios (Patrick Cramer, Geneva), costs 75.
HENRY MOORE - A LIFE IN ART
Henry Moore was born in Castleford in 1898, the son of a miner. After the Great War he began studying at the Leeds School of Art and progressed to the Royal College of Art in London, where he met his future wife Irina Radetsky. The couple mingled with many aspiring young artists including, Barbara Hepworth. Early sculptures of the 1920s show the influences of Central American art and the Italian Renaissance but by the 1930s his works had become highly abstract. His main themes include mother-and-child and family groups, fallen warriors, and, most characteristically, the reclining human figure.n 1948 he was awarded the International Prize for Sculpture and his reputation grew worldwide. His work can be seen at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and at The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Moore died in 1986.