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1940 - 1947: A Rise to Fame

During the 1940s Henry Moore firmly established his reputation on the global stage.  

In 1940 Henry and Irina's Hampstead street was bombed, narrowly missing but damaging their studio. Fortunately the couple had been away visiting friends in Hertfordshire and on discovering their damaged home quickly returned to the county. They decided to rent part of a farmhouse in Perry Green near Much Hadham, initially just for the duration of the war. The Moores never left and over the next few years managed to buy the house and subsequently the surrounding land and buildings, providing the artist with a large estate in which he had numerous studios and could display his large-scale sculptures.

 

At Much Hadham we discovered we could lease half of a house called 'Hoglands'. The owner was away at the war and his wife decided to go and live with her mother and offered to sell us Hoglands. I had just been offered £300 by Gordon Onslow-Ford for the big 1939 elmwood 'Reclining Figure' and this happened to be exactly the deposit required on the house. We have lived at Hoglands ever since.

Henry Moore in Henry Spencer Moore, photographed and edited by John Hedgecoe, words by Henry Moore, Nelson

London: Simon and Schuster, New York 1968


During the war years in Perry Green Moore joined the local Home Guard, but less than thirty miles north of London he continued to visit the city. He stopped working on sculpture and instead dedicated himself to drawing. He was inspired by the crowds of people huddled in the London Underground during air raids, seeing comparisons between figures sleeping under blankets with his own reclining figures, and the holes of the tunnels with those in his sculptures. In 1941 Moore became an Official War Artist commissioned to create more of these 'shelter drawings.' The work transformed his reputation and the sculptor became known to a much wider audience. The following year he was commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee to create drawings of the coalminers at Wheldale Colliery near Castleford, where his father had worked. After the war Moore returned to sculpture with a commission for a Madonna and Child for a church in Northampton.

Perhaps now that the war is completely over, the isolated, cut-off feeling we've all had, particularly here in England, may quickly go. … Though I myself think that I have been particularly lucky throughout the war. Happiest thing of all is that I have been able to go on working all through – although not all the time at exactly what I would have liked – that is I've not been free to give the majority (and proper proportion) of my time to my real work of sculpture. But that's no longer so.

Henry Moore in Henry J. Seldis, Henry Moore in America, Phaidon, London; Praeger

New York 1973, p.65


Moore had not only managed to produce drawings during the war but also staged his first retrospective exhibition alongside Graham Sutherland and John Piper at Temple Newsam House in Leeds in 1941. In the same year he was appointed as a Trustee of the Tate Gallery, a position he held intermittently until 1956. In 1943 he held his first solo exhibition in America at the Buchholz Gallery, New York and in 1945 the University of Leeds awarded him the first of many honorary degrees. 

In 1946 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held the first major international retrospective of Moore's work. Moore credited this as having generated the global attention his work recieved in the years which followed. In the same year Henry and Irina's only child, Mary was born. Moore's focus on the mother and child theme in his work, one of his most enduring subjects, received a renewed vigour.

Of course an artist uses experiences he's had in life. Such an experience in my life was the birth of my daughter Mary, which re-invoked in my sculpture my Mother and Child theme. A new experience can bring to the surface something deep in one's mind.

Henry Moore in Henry Spencer Moore, photographed and edited by John Hedgecoe, words by Henry Moore, Nelson, London: Simon and Schuster,

New York 1968, p.173