Art historian reveals photo link to Henry Moore sketches

Henry Moore's Tube Shelter Perspective: The Liverpool Street Extension 1941. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

A key World War II drawing by the celebrated artist Henry Moore was inspired not by the sculptor’s own experiences but by photographs, University of Sussex art historian David Alan Mellor has revealed as a major retrospective of Moore’s work opens in London.


The much-anticipated Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain features 150 stone sculptures, wood carvings, bronzes and drawings. Moore is famous for his abstract sculptures of human forms, many of which are on public display outdoors.


During World War II, Moore was on the cusp of international fame as an artist. One of his gouache and ink Shelter Drawings of that period, depicting Londoners sheltering from the Blitz, was supposedly inspired by a night-time journey made by Moore on the London Underground in 1940 and helped to forge his reputation as a critically acclaimed and popular artist.


Confirmed as Britain’s Official War Artist in 1940, the drawings gained symbolic status in the battle for hearts and minds against the Nazis. They were displayed in the National Gallery in London and featured in an exhibition to encourage the Americans to join with the Allies against Hitler.


Now Professor Mellor, a renowned contemporary art scholar and curator who wrote an essay for the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, has identified magazine photographs that served as the blueprints for the Shelter Drawings. His discovery challenges Moore’s own account of how he came to produce the drawings.


According to Moore, he produced the first of the whole series of drawing, Women and Children in the Tube on 12 September 1940, following a trip on London Underground’s Northern Line on 11 September.


However, Professor Mellor discovered that the work was actually based on a photograph that appeared in the Picture Post magazine in October 1940, which was used to illustrate an article on mothers made homeless by the Blitz. His drawing Morning after the Blitz was similarly influenced by another photograph in Picture Post. The poses in the photographs are identical to those in Moore's drawings. Several other images have been identified as having their origins in magazine photographs.


Professor Mellor, who specialises in 20th century art forms such as photography, made the connection while researching his essay on Moore for the current exhibition.


He says: “All artists working after the invention of photography have used the medium to some extent - it adds grit to their creative process. What we didn’t know was that the moving image which Moore drew - of homeless nursing mothers and infants - had its origin in a popular photo-reporting magazine and didn’t come simply from his own observations. This in no way lessens the acheivement of this key drawing. On the contrary, it makes it more complex and leaves us with an image bearing the direct imprint of the circumstances of the Blitz.”


The exhibition, curated by University of Sussex DPhil graduate Christopher Stephens, offers a fascinating re-appraisal of Moore’s legacy as one of the UK’s greatest art pioneers. Henry Moore died in 1986 aged 88, having established The Henry Moore Foundation to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts.


Notes for Editors

To find out more about the Henry Moore exhibition, visit the Tate Britain web site.


Visit Art History to learn more about art history studies at the University of Sussex


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Last updated: Friday, 26 February 2010