Interactive Tour of Perry Green

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Bourne Maquette studio

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The inside of the Bourne Maquette studio

The monumental bronze sculptures by Henry Moore familiar to audiences worldwide all began as plaster maquettes, small enough to be held in the palm of the artist’s hand. But what is a maquette? Why did Moore make them, how did he enlarge them, what were the processes involved, and why are so many to be found in one small studio at Perry Green?

None of Moore’s studios were grand. They were often converted from old sheds and stables, unprepossessing though easily adaptable, draughty and often cold, but serviceable and with good light. Closest to the Moores’ home, Hoglands, was the House or Top Studio, a converted stable and Moore’s first working area at Perry Green, where all the immediate post-war carvings were made. Tucked away inconspicuously behind the Top Studio, in a little room that had once been the village shop, was the original Maquette Studio. In 1970 its contents of plasters and found objects - bones, flints, roots, shells and other natural detritus - were moved to a purpose-built studio further down the estate. This new space, the Bourne Maquette Studio, consisting of two similar-sized rooms, overlooks the sheep field and the more rural areas of the estate beyond. The inner room was used for the making and display of ‘maquettes’ (after the French word for small model), and the outer for enlarging them to medium-sized plasters, commonly known as working models.
This was at the heart of the creative process, a place Moore could come to think, to work, and to get away from the activities and distractions elsewhere on the estate. It remains basically as it was during his lifetime, though a few changes have been made in order to accommodate additional visitors, security and conservation concerns. The largest change is the addition of a window to the inner room to facilitate public viewing.

Some early works have not survived due to the fragility of plaster, but the room remains filled with maquettes - finished, uncompleted, fragmented - as well as tools, Moore’s collection of found objects, plus his walking stick and chair.

While all Moore’s pre-war sculptures had their genesis in drawings and notebook pages, those from later dates were made first in terracotta or plaster in a size that was easy to hold and view from all angles. Moore particularly liked plaster, admiring its flexibility and explaining that it was ‘ . . . an important material for sculptors. Good quality plaster mixed with water sets to the hardness of a soft stone. I use plaster for my maquettes in preference to clay because I can both build it up and cut it down. It is easily worked, while clay hardens and dries, so that it cannot be added to.’ These small sculptures served as the first model in the process of enlargement, and many were also cast in bronze editions.

Often Moore would apply plaster or plasticine on to a found object such as a flint or bone, or produce a plaster cast directly from the object itself. One example of this can be seen on the stand in the centre of the table. Notice the small plaster maquette with the bone beside it. This bone was the basis for Mother and Child: Hood 1983 (LH 851) in travertine marble, currently on loan from the Foundation to St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

In 1972 Moore began a sketchbook full of drawings of sheep, which was followed by a series of etchings. In a BBC film he vividly recalled sketching the sheep from this studio window, tapping on the glass to gain their attention, though other drawings of the sheep were made from photographs taken out in the landscape.

The rhinoceros and elephant skulls were given to Moore by Juliette Huxley in 1968. The elephant skull in particular, with its sense of mystery and complexity of detail, became an important source of inspiration. At once both strong and fragile, the hard external curved forms surround delicate structures within a dark cavernous space. The skull was Moore’s favourite natural object and inspired several sculptures as well as works on paper.

Some plaster working models are also on display. Although these were often an intermediate stage in the enlargement process, as with the maquettes they are sculptures in their own right and for many subjects are the final versions. The plasters were worked with various tools such as files and cheese graters to provide a textured surface, and sometimes coloured with walnut crystals to create a warm bone-like tint, recalling many of the found objects. The green deposits on the plasters result from shellac coatings used during the casting process, or from bronze dust settling on them while at the foundry. Moore admired this effect and sometimes imitated it with a watercolour wash.