The Henry Moore mystery
External Relations writer Jacqui Bealing goes on the trail of an iconic sculpture that, for a while, lived at the University of Sussex.
My colleague points at his computer screen. “Whatever happened to this?”
I see over his shoulder that he is looking at a grainy, black and white photograph of a sculpture that appears to be on the grass below the slopes of the University of Sussex’s Library.
The picture, which shows students sitting on the plinth of a bone-like arch, has been uploaded to the alumni scrapbook pages on Flickr. A caption reads: Henry Moore sculpture on campus. 1967.
“Didn’t he have other links with the university?” my colleague then asks.This is true.The celebrated British artist was made an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1965.
As it's also the case that the sculpture is no longer here, I tell my colleague that I’ll find out what happened. I’m sure it will only take a couple of emails to solve the mystery.
My first approach is to Emeritus History of Art Professor David Mellor, who not only knows about art, but was also a student at Sussex in the late Sixties.
“This episode in Sussex's history is still not clear - at least in my mind!” he replies. “I recall seeing the sculpture in my first year or two, in 1967-9. The rumour about its disappearance - a little while later - was that Henry Moore was distressed that it had been treated in some disparaging way or just 'disrespected' and he had withdrawn his loan/gift.
“We weren't too upset by this,” continues Professor Mellor, “because, as Art History students, Moore was ancient history and Tony Caro and the St. Martins sculptors (together with Robert Smithson in the US) were our guiding stars.”
Disrespected? Oh dear. Perhaps the Henry Moore Foundation, who keep track of the late artist’s works and have a vast archive of his diaries and correspondence, can shed light on the matter?
I contact the foundation and receive a response from Sophie Orpen, the Archive Research Co-ordinator. After seeing the photograph, she identifies the work as LH 503 Large Torso: Arch, a two-metre high bronze.
“What I cannot determine at the moment is the exact cast number of the sculpture that was on loan to Sussex in the 1960s,” she adds. “It was an edition of seven. Once I have the number, I will be able to find out its current whereabouts. Our paperwork regarding any loans in the 1960s is also a little more elusive so it is taking me some time to track down the relevant items.”
In the meantime, our alumni team tweet about the photograph. Responses include the University’s Special Collections archivists sharing a photo of a model of campus, of unknown provenance, with a tiny arch just like the one that’s gone.
I’m also led on another trail by alumnus Jonathan Engel, who tells me he successfully campaigned to get one of Moore’s other sculptures, a reclining figure, put on display in what was then the Applied Sciences building (now Chichester III).
“It was 1967 or 1968,” he says. “Since I was the chair of the Joint Student Committee, I had a lot of contact with faculty, and I was asked to help to get the students in the school (Applied Sciences, and therefore quite "conservative" in their tastes) to accept the sculpture which we had been given or allocated, or probably received because it was rejected elsewhere.
“It was a kind of reclining figure, I think, in sort of varnished plaster (light cream). It was a question essentially of being hospitable to it, and accepting its (at the time) eccentricity.”
Poor Moore; too old hat for the arts students, it seems, and yet too avant garde for the scientists.
I trawl through old copies of the student newspaper,The Wine Press, now housed in The Keep, to see if there are any references to either of the Moore sculptures, and discover that a Brighton Festival exhibition in 1968 possibly included Sussex as one of the locations.
Perhaps this explains the reclining figure exhibit, and why it is no longer on campus? But what of Arch?
I contact Robin Lustig who was the editor of The Wine Press at the time, and who went on to have a long and illustrious career with the BBC. “To my shame, I cannot recall the exhibition,” he replies.
Lady Hollick, who was also a student at Sussex in the Sixties, remembers Arch, but not its arrival or removal. “I fear we took it for granted,” she confesses.
'Primal force of life'
A few days later, Sophie responds again with a new – but somewhat confounding – lead. She has found a copy of the address given by Professor J Corbett at Moore’s Honorary Degree presentation on 12 June 1965.
It includes the stirring line: “But when the critic looks at that Torso by Mr Moore that was recently standing on the green grass outside Falmer House, his eyes are opened and his questions stilled.
“All the ages of human strength are alive within that massive arch, and unfold themselves before the speculative eye; what, to the ignorant, is incompleteness and distortion, represents to the judicious the primal force of life.”
In addition, she has found a brochure of a 1965 Arts Council touring exhibition of Contemporary British Sculpture, which includes a photograph of Arch – and the dates “Brighton University 8-29 May”. Since Brighton University was not then in existence, Sussex must have been the venue.
So it seems it was temporarily on campus in 1965, and then returned sometime later. It also appears to have changed its location, as two other photographs I later discover on the alumni scrapbook reveal. In one, it is just north of the Meeting House, with the Arts A lecture theatres to the right. In another colour one it is near the Library.
And it comes to light that it featured in a film made by students in 1967, Fire Over Falmer, with mock Russian revolutionaries doing a victory dance around it.
When I send the photos to Sophie, she responds instantly with an update. She has found a tiny reference in Moore’s day-to-day diary, dated 4 January 1966: “Shadbolt to take Arch to Sussex”.
She has also found a letter Moore wrote in November 1968 to a student at the University of Essex, who was requesting that the artist donate a sculpture to a campus that was, in his words, “slowly de-humanising [him]”.
Moore replies that he is touched by the student’s “warmth and sincerity”, and regrets that most of his works are on tour, adding that “… the three or four sculptures which are available I have lent to universities such as York, Sussex and Cambridge”.
Sophie’s next task is to track Moore’s diary entries after November 1968 to come up with “a concrete set of dates” for the sculpture’s sojurn at Sussex. She finds a one-line reference in 13 June 1969: “2pm. Shadbolt crane to collect (Arch) with John”. Although it’s not definite that this was a reference to the Arch at Sussex.
So this is where the trail ends, but the mystery is not solved. The cast number of the sculpture is still not known, and it’s not certain that it was removed in 1969. Can anyone add to the story? Please let us know by emailing email@example.com.
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