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Carving a sculptural career

Chapter 2

Moore started exhibiting his work in the early 1920s, making lasting friendships with other contemporary artists and developing his own unique modernist aesthetic.

A black and white photo showing a man and a woman in an artist's studio. They are both seated close to the camera and can also be seen in reflection in a mirror.

First exhibitions and commissions

While still a student, Moore had already begun to emerge as an artist of note on the London art scene.

In 1924 he took part in his first group exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, London. In the same year, he started renting space to work at Grove Studios in Hammersmith.

He held his first solo exhibition at the Warren Gallery, London, in 1928, showing 42 sculptures and 51 drawings. The reception of the exhibition delighted Moore. His works were bought by other artists, including Jacob Epstein, Augustus John and Henry Lamb.

Henry Moore, a young man dressed in a suit and holding a cigarette, standing next to an abstract stone sculpture of a nude standing woman. The sculpture is around 4ft tall, but stands higher than Moore due to its placement on a narrow, striped pillar.
Henry Moore with 'Standing Woman' 1926 (LH 33), c.1928. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.
A black and white photo showing a young man carving a stone sculpture onto the side of a building
Spring 1928, Henry Moore working on 'West Wind' (LH 58) for the headquarters of London Underground, St. James' Park. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

It was also in 1928 that Moore received his first major public commission.

He made a carved relief of West Wind for the façade of the new headquarters of the London Underground at St James’s Park. He was one of seven artists commissioned by the architect Charles Holden to produce new work. Among the other artists was Jacob Epstein.

The bold and powerful figure of Moore’s relief shows the influence of Epstein, and of the carvings Moore had seen at the British Museum as a student.

Networking with the avant-garde

While teaching part time at the Royal College in London, Moore met Irina Radetsky, a painting student. The couple married in 1929.

As a fellow artist, Moore cherished Irina’s opinions throughout his career. The couple moved to a home and studio in Hampstead, London, into a hub of artistic activity.

Mingling with other artists, architects, designers and historians, their neighbours in the 1920s and 1930s included notable figures such as Marcel Breuer, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, Roland Penrose and Herbert Read.

A black and white photo showing a man and a woman in an artist's studio. They are both seated close to the camera and can also be seen in reflection in a mirror.
Henry and Irina Moore in the studio at 11a Parkhill Road, Hampstead, London, 1930. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.
A man wearing a dark jumper and blazer stands next to a large wooden carving of an abstract reclining figure. The man's left hand is resting on the 'arm' of the sculpture as he looks off into the distance.
Moore at Burcroft, Kent, with 'Reclining Figure' 1939 (LH 210), c.1937. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

Working within this supportive creative network, Moore enjoyed a position at the forefront of the avant-garde. He received increasing critical attention following numerous exhibitions.

In 1930 his work was shown at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one of the world’s leading international exhibitions of contemporary art. In the same year, the first major critical assessment of his work was published in Apollo: The International Magazine of Art and Antiques.

In 1931 Henry and Irina moved to Kent, affording them more space than in London. They moved to a modern bungalow, called Burcroft, in 1935. The garden at Burcroft encouraged Moore’s interest in making sculpture for natural landscapes.

Teaching and criticism

Despite his growing success, for many traditional critics Moore’s new modernist aesthetic was too unconventional.

In 1931 he resigned from his teaching post at the Royal College of Art after a negative press campaign against him was backed by his colleagues.

In the same year, he became the first Head of Sculpture in a new department at Chelsea School of Art. He would hold this post until 1939.

A black and white photo showing a man standing in the midst of a group of younger adults. They are arranged in front of a brick wall, which looks like a school building.
Henry Moore with a group of students at Chelsea School of Art, c.1933. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

“What makes this kind of work all the more deplorable is that Mr Moore is paid by the nation to train its young men and women to become teachers or professional sculptors … Frankly, we think that Mr Moore’s work is a menace from which students at the Royal College should be protected.”

Morning Post, 14 April 1931

An archive photo of a sculpture exhibition displayed in a gallery. There are six small sculptures arranged on white plinths, three works on paper displayed on the walls and six pendant lights hanging from the ceiling.
View of the exhibition 'Sculpture and drawings by Henry Moore', on display in Hogarth Room, The Leicester Galleries, London, November 1936. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

Moore’s new role at Chelsea School of Art still allowed him time to focus on his own work.

He experimented with making abstract holes in his sculpture, after admiring the work of his friend Barbara Hepworth. He also started producing sculptures from small-scale models in plaster and clay rather than drawings.

In the 1930s, the Leicester Galleries in London staged three solo exhibitions of Moore’s work. Although most of his output was destined for these shows, he also participated in many group exhibitions during the decade. Notable among these were the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and Cubism and Abstract Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, both in 1936.

Moore met many other influential artists during this time, including avant-garde sculptors Alberto Giacometti, Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz in Paris. In 1937 he visited Pablo Picasso’s studio, seeing the painting Guernica in progress.

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Explore an interactive timeline of Henry Moore’s life, featuring important artworks and exhibitions, biographical information and life events, and Moore’s interactions with other artists.

Timeline of Henry Moore’s life