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Henry Moore and Foundries

For the vast majority of his career, Henry Moore collaborated with foundries in order to cast his bronze sculptures.

Aside from a brief period in the 1940s and early 1950s, where he dabbled in his own bronze casting (and in turn ruined a lot of his wife Irina’s saucepans!), Moore enjoyed a good working relationship with many foundries across the United Kingdom, as well as abroad.

When he was experimenting with his own casting methods, Moore and his assistants would visit foundries to learn about the materials and methods that were used. Alan Ingham, an assistant of Moore’s from this period, constructed a kiln similar to that of Gaskin’s foundry in Chelsea in the back garden of Hoglands in which they experimented with casting bronze and lead. However, as Moore soon learnt, working with professional bronze foundries was far less time consuming, and hazardous, than casting works himself.

There are two main methods of casting bronze: sand casting, and lost wax casting. Sand casting was often used for the larger pieces that didn’t have a heavy texture. A mould is made by creating a contained area of sand in which the shape of what you want to be cast is created. Into this the molten metal is poured and allowed to cool before breaking away the sand mould to leave the finished cast.

Lost wax casting is achieved by creating a hollow wax replica of the model of the work. In this method, Moore often favoured plaster in model making. In order to create a wax replica of the plaster first a rubber mould is made, into which the wax is poured. Once it is dry the hollow wax mould is coated by a final, clay based and fireproof, mould. The mould is then heated so that the wax melts and is ‘lost’. This then leaves an empty mould into which molten bronze can be poured, creating the final cast. 

After the initial casting, the sculpture is still not entirely finished. Freshly cast bronze has a distinctly dull colour, meaning that each sculpture would have to be buffed by an orbital sander at the foundry. This process also means that any welding lines or unwanted marks that formed during the casting process can be removed. Bronze is also a particularly fascinating material due to the many different shades the metal can take depending on what chemical it is exposed to. This process is named patination, and Moore used it in order to give his bronze sculptures either a green, gold, brown, or black colouring to the surface, adding definition and depth.

Often the casting process could become a lot more complicated, particularly due to the size of the sculpture in question. In 1964 Henry Moore had finished his plaster version of what was to become the commissioned sculpture for the newly built Lincoln Centre in New York. It was about to become the largest in Moore’s ‘two piece’ series at 16 feet high and 33 feet long. Due to its monumental size, in order for it to be sent to Noack (a bronze foundry in Berlin that Moore favoured for casting larger sculptures) the plaster had to be cut into twenty-two separate sections. Once at the foundry the plaster was split yet again to make sixty-five sections that were then cast in solid bronze, before eventually being welded together to complete the final piece. All in all, it took the Noack foundry an entire year to cast and patinate the Lincoln Centre commission.

As it can be seen from the Lincoln Centre commission, Moore’s working methods were often on a global scale. As well as foundries across Britain (Morris SingerFiorini, Norman & Raymond), Moore often used foundries in Germany (Noack and Rosenthal), France (Susse Fondeur), Denmark, Mexico, and the USA. Although bronze sculptures were not cast in his own studios, Moore was still very involved in the casting process, and would not let anything leave the foundry without a thorough inspection by him. His relationship with those who worked at the foundries was also strong and was reinforced through regular visits before, during, and after the casting process. Foundry owners such as Monsieur Susse and Hermann Noack often visited London to meet with Moore, or even travelled to Perry Green to view his studios and discuss future projects.

If you want to find out more about the process of casting bronze sculptures, or about any of the foundries that Moore used throughout his career, please contact the archive and we will be happy to assist with your enquiry. Also, if you, or anyone you know, worked on a Moore sculpture in a bronze foundry we would also be interested to hear about your experiences.