The Archive Team has selected a series of objects to form its own digital cabinet of curiosities, in celebration of the Gagosian Gallery exhibition, Henry Moore: Wunderkammer - Origin of Forms.

The Henry Moore Foundation Archives at Perry Green are home to many examples of Moore's own collections in the form of photographs and letters documenting the artist's life and works.

Henry Moore was an insatiable collector of objects, both natural and manmade. The artist liked to be within arm's length of things he could hold, study and admire. Moore's home, Hoglands, is a treasure trove of these weird and wonderful curios; props which Moore could use to explain and explore sculptural themes of texture, form, size and weight to visiting guests. These objects were carefully chosen, placed in the artist's living space with no apparent formality; possessions to be proud of and inspired by.

Whether he knew it or not, Moore was creating a Wunderkammer; a term used to describe the collection of curiosities displayed in cabinets by discerning gentlemen during the 16th and 17th Centuries. These cabinets housed natural forms, bones, plants, rocks, minerals and the like. With a magpie-like eye the collector would gather items from far-flung places and guests would be permitted to gaze upon their strangeness with wonder.

The Archive Team has selected a series of objects to form its own digital cabinet of curiosities, in celebration of the Gagosian Gallery exhibition, Henry Moore: Wunderkammer - Origin of Forms.

The Henry Moore Foundation Archives at Perry Green are home to many examples of Moore's own collections in the form of photographs and letters documenting the artist's life and works.


Henry Moore may be best known for his sculpture of reclining figures, but between 1921 and 1982 He made some fifty-eight animal sculptures, many of which were inspired by birds. One of Moore's most figurative birds is Owl 1966 (LH 546). The little Owl was originally made to demonstrate modelling to his young daughter Mary, but later in 1966 the plaster model was cast in an edition of five bronze sculptures. Two of which found their way to Keswick estate in Dumfries, Scotland.

This rarely seen photograph of two owls was taken by Errol Jackson c.1970, during his annual visit to the Edinburgh Festival, where Sir William Keswick asked him to photograph his collection of small sculptures. Jackson placed one bird 'back to front' to create the image of 'a perfect pair' perched inquisitively and appealingly on a wall against the rolling Scottish landscape.

The original plaster Owl is currently on display in the exhibition Henry Moore: Wunderkammer - Origin of Forms, Gagosian Gallery, Davies Street, London, 9th February - 2nd April 2015.

Right: index sheet typed by Errol Jackson explaining how and why he photographed Moore's two Owls, c.1970.


This image, taken by Errol Jackson, shows a bronze figure Reclining Figure No.7 1980 bronze, (LH 752) in what appears to be a state of undress.

Having been shipped from the Noack Foundry in Berlin, the sculpture is captured by Jackson as the brown paper and bandages are removed so that the patina can be inspected. We don't tend to think of Moore's figures as being clothed, but he frequently visits the theme of the draped, wrapped and veiled object or figure within his artwork. As a student at the Royal College of Art Moore made weekly visits to the British Museum. He was naturally drawn to the Egyptian artefacts, where he would have seen the bandaged forms of mummies and their corresponding sarcophagi and monumental stone effigies.

Within Moore's drawings we see the bound form manifested a series of parallel lines describing both shape and tone; for example the cloth covering the sleeping figures of Moore's Shelter drawings. This technique creates the feeling of the figures being wrapped and protected. Roger Berthoud, Moore's biographer, suggested that the veiled figure at the centre of the drawing Crowd Looking at a Tied up Object 1942 drawing, (HMF 2064) may well have taken seed from the cloth bound clay artworks which were left covered in the studios of the Royal College of Art, so as not to dry out overnight.

The figure seen here in this photo, c.1950, bears startling resemblance to the tied up object of the earlier drawing, but is in fact the original plaster for Standing Figure 1950 bronze, (LH 290) in the Top Studio at Perry Green.

Elephant Skull

The elephant skull was a gift from old friends Julian and Juliette Huxley, who Henry and Irina met when living in Hampstead in the 1940s. Julian Huxley was a zoologist. When staying at the Mount Kenya Club in the early 1960s the owner, Ray Ryan, was in despair because the wild animals were being poached. The Huxley's promised to mention the matter to Kenya's President Jomo Kenyatta, when they saw him shortly. In gratitude, Ray Ryan made them members of the Safari club. Juliette Huxley said that she had always wanted a real elephant skull. The day after a rogue elephant was shot and the Ryan sent them the elephant skull.

For about two years the skull decorated a corner of the Huxley's Hampstead garden on a rotating table. In 1965 Henry Moore came to see it, and noticed an affinity with the Maquette for Atom Piece 1964 (LH 524), which he had been working on. Juliette had been taught sculpture by John Skeaping, and could see that Henry was very interested in the skull.

"About six or nine months later we drove to see Henry, and in the car on the way I said ‘I think I will give my elephant skull to Henry'. Soon after we arrived, Julian got out and told Henry as he came to greet us: ‘We have decided to give you our elephant skull.' Henry sent along a lorry next day, and they took it complete with the rotating table I had made. He had it beautifully cleaned and polished, so that it now looks like ivory: it was getting a bit mossy and mouldy, and a wren had built a nest where the neck connects with the vertebrae." [Source: Interview with Lady Huxley and Roger Berthoud, September 1984]

Maquette for Atom Piece 1964 bronze, (LH 524)

The maquette, cast in 1970, will be on show at the exhibition:

History is Now: 7 Artists Take on Britain

At the Hayward Gallery, London, 10 February to 26 March 2015

Taking on the role of guest curators, the artists John Akomfrah, Simon Fujiwara, Roger Hiorns, Hannah Starkey, Richard Wentworth and Jane and Louise Wilson explore the cultural history of the United Kingdom, using  objects drawn from art collections alongside artefacts of everyday life.

Logistics of an international artist's work

The Henry Moore Archive contains over 250,000 documents dating from 1917. This include letters to friends, artists, galleries, art dealers and business associates and also documentation relating to practicalities of the production and exhibition of sculpture. These include for example invoices, consignments, receipts relating to foundries, transportation, logistics and insurance.

These documents shows the shipping advice for the transportation, insurance and customs clearance for the elephant skull in 1977. The elephant skull was probably exhibited at one of these exhibitions, alongside etchings from Moore's Elephant Skull album:

Henry Moore. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. March-April 1977 showing 200 of Moore's graphic works. Moore accompanied MadameSaunier-Site, the French Secretary of State for Culture around the opening of the exhibition.

Fondation Gérald Cramer, Cabinet des Estampes (Print Room), Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneva, 14 May - 12 June 1977

L' Animal de Lascaux à Picasso (The animal from Lascaux to Picasso) . Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris. 15 June 1976 - 7 January 1977

Henry Moore working on a plaster in his maquette studio, October 1981

This film was made at the request of Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada for the exhibition Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty April 5 - July 20, 2014.  It was projected onto a wall in the gallery juxtaposed with a film of Francis Bacon's studio on an opposite wall to give the audience a better understanding of how each artist worked and the objects they surrounded themselves with.

Henry Moore's Maquette studio, nestled deep in the grounds of his estate at Perry Green, was a place where he would go to work alone and try out new ideas. The studio has been kept just as it was when Moore was alive. It is flooded with natural light from above, which comes down on to the artist's desk in the centre of the room. Shelving units atop simple kitchen cabinets, drawers and large polystyrene blocks line the walls. Every available space is crammed with nearly half a century's accumulation of plaster maquettes, terracottas and 'found objects'.

The whole studio is in itself a Wunderkammer 'Chamber/Cabinet of Curiosities'. A cabinet of Moore's ideas and small objects that he collected to inspire him. A miniature retrospective of all his work.