Moore's Early Life – Schoolboy, Soldier, Student
Henry Moore was born at 30 Roundhill Road, Castleford, on 30 July 1898, to Raymond Spencer Moore and Mary Baker.
Castleford is a small industrial town in Yorkshire in the North of England. Moore was the seventh of eight children born into a coalmining family, who all lived in what is commonly referred to as a ‘two-up, two-down’.
These humble beginnings shaped Moore’s outlook and his artistic imagination. Moore likened the landscape of slag heaps to the pyramids.
The cavernous subterranean world below, combined with the rocky outcrops of the nearby countryside, had a lasting impact on the artist.
Moore’s family were no less inspirational.
Moore recalled his mother as an un-resting source of stability and protection, while his father, a politically active and self-taught miner, instilled in him an appreciation for education.
At the age of three, Moore’s facility for drawing was first spotted. By the age of eleven, after hearing a story about Michelangelo at Sunday school, Moore had decided he wanted to be a sculptor.
Moore’s interest in art was nurtured by his teachers.
They included progressive headmaster T.R. ‘Toddy’ Dawes, and art teacher Alice Gostick, who introduced Moore to continental avant-garde art through the pages of magazines.
Moore wanted to continue studying art but on leaving school in 1915, his father encouraged him to complete teacher training, as it offered greater security.
Aged seventeen, Moore worked as a student teacher at his old primary school, but did not enjoy the experience.
Less than a year later, before compulsory conscription, he enlisted in the army.
Moore initially wanted to join the Artists’ Rifles regiment (the obvious choice).
Unfortunately, he was turned down as he was considered too short. He was instead accepted by the Civil Service Rifles and assigned to the 3rd Battalion.
He was soon sent to France and in November 1917, fought at the battle of Cambrai, one of the bloodiest offensives of the First World War.
Bombarded with mustard-gas, smoke and machine-gun fire, only 200 of the 500 men in Moore’s battalion survived. Moore was gassed during the battle and returned to England to convalesce.
Following two months in hospital in Cardiff, he spent the remainder of the War as a physical training instructor, before returning to France just as the Armistice was signed.
After the War, Moore received an ex-serviceman’s grant to attend Leeds School of Art, and was finally able to pursue his dream of becoming an artist.
He completed the two-year drawing course in one year before enrolling on the sculpture course.
Sculpture had not been taught at the school since the War, but in 1919 a sculpture department was set up – just in time for Moore to become its only full-time student.
At Leeds, Moore met fellow artists Raymond Coxon and Barbara Hepworth. After two years, Moore won a scholarship for the Royal College of Art in London, and moved there in 1921.
Coxon and Hepworth also enrolled at the Royal College.
“I knew that not far away I had the National Gallery and British Museum and the Victoria and Albert with the reference library where I could get at any book I wanted. I could learn about all the sculptures that had ever been made in the world.”
Henry Moore, in ‘Conversations with Henry Moore’, John and Vera Russell
Sunday Times, 17 December 1961
In Leeds and London Moore was taught a traditional curriculum, which involved copying from casts of antique sculptures. This did not suit Moore’s burgeoning creativity.
He learnt much from his formal training, but was stimulated most by the varied and expansive museums now on his doorstep in the capital, which he visited weekly.
Moore was exhilarated by the buzz of the city that left him in a ‘dream of excitement.’
He spent hours amongst African, Aztec and Cycladic sculpture in the British Museum. Trips to Paris provided further sources of inspiration and opportunity.
Moore had loved carving since his school days, having been captivated by the medieval sculptures he saw on school trips to local churches.
Now he joined with contemporary artists in the drive for ‘direct carving’ and ‘truth to materials’ – ideas promoted by his tutor Leon Underwood.
Moore scoured the displays of the Geological Museum in search of materials that were not linked to classical sculpture.
During the 1920s, immersed in an exciting circle of avant-garde thinkers, Moore synthesised all he had learned to develop his own distinctive style.
In 1924, on completing his course at the Royal College, Moore was granted a travelling scholarship to visit Italy and study the Old Masters.
While he longed to go, he had also accepted a teaching post at the College. He had to delay his trip until 1925, when a replacement tutor was found.
Moore continued to teach there on a part-time basis until 1931. Afterwards, he taught at Chelsea School of Art until the outbreak of the Second World War.