Skip to main content

The Henry Moore Institute is closed for refurbishment until Summer 2024.

Discover & Research

Rise to fame

Chapter 4

Following the end of the Second World War, Moore’s international reputation was cemented with landmark exhibitions and commissions at home and abroad.

Black and white photo of a man, with his back to the camera, working on a white plaster sculpture of an abstract woman holding a child.


A few months after the war ended, in March 1946, Henry and Irina’s daughter Mary was born.

Now nearing 50, Moore delighted in fatherhood. His focus on one of his most enduring subjects, the mother and child theme, received a renewed vigour.

“…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, 1968

(As quoted in Henry Spencer Moore, photographed and edited by John Hedgecoe, 1968, p.173)

Black and white photo of a young girl, aged around four or five, walking on a brick wall. She is wearing a summer dress and has a bow in her hair. A woman stands next to the wall, holding the girl's hand, and just in front of her a man rests his arms on the wall, looking on.
Henry, Irina and Mary Moore in the garden at Hoglands, c.1950. Photo: Felix H. Man.
A black and white photo of a man, in a sweater vest and slacks, he is cleaning a reclining figure sculpture on a plinth.
Henry Moore in his garden with the plaster 'Reclining Figure: Festival' c.1951. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

The Festival of Britain

In 1951, the Festival of Britain was organised by the Labour government to promote the arts, science and industry and to further encourage optimism after the war.

Many contemporary artists were commissioned to make work. Moore was given a prominent position at the centre of the festival on the South Bank of the River Thames.

Although he had been asked for a family group, Moore instead provided Reclining Figure: Festival. He said: “I think this is the first sculpture in which I succeeded in making form and space sculpturally inseparable.”

To coincide with the festival, John Read produced a documentary titled Henry Moore for the BBC, making Moore the first ever living artist to be the subject of a film.

In the same year, Moore had his first retrospective at Tate in London.

Venice Biennale

Moore represented Britain at the 24th Venice Biennale in 1948, where he was awarded the International Sculpture Prize. His sculpture was seen to represent the optimistic, humanist values embodied in modernism and opposed to Fascism.

In 1952, Moore was once again represented at the Venice Biennale.

On this occasion the British Council presented the work of a new group of emerging sculptors, but installed Moore’s Double Standing Figure of 1950 at the entrance to the British Pavilion. Moore was positioned as the forefather to the younger artists.

At the same time, the Venice display highlighted a desire among the younger generation to escape the shadow of Moore and develop a new aesthetic. The group became known as the ‘Geometry of Fear’ artists after Herbert Read’s description in the catalogue essay. Their style was defined by welded spiky forms, which directly opposed the fluid curves characteristic of Moore’s sculptures.

A vintage colour photo showing a man in a red sweater vest, the sculptor Henry Moore, with his tall metal sculpture 'Double Standing Figure'
Moore with 'Double Standing Figure' in the garden at Hoglands, c.1950. Photo: Henry Moore Archive
A black and white photo showing the unveiling of a stone sculpture of a family group. There is a small crowd of people watching and chairs have been set out.
Henry Moore in Harlow for the unveiling of 'Harlow Family Group' 1954-55 (LH 364), May 1956. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.

New Towns and international commissions

Moore’s numerous commissions meant that his work became an icon for post-war Britain.

The Labour government’s New Towns Act of 1946 planned an ambitious programme for building 11 new towns in the UK. Moore’s Family Group, 1948-49 and Harlow Family Group, 1954-55 were commissioned for the New Towns of Stevenage and Harlow.

In 1965, Moore’s Knife Edge Two Piece was prominently sited outside the Houses of Parliament in London, where it remains to this day.

Notable international commissions included Nuclear Energy, 1964-66, made for the University of Chicago; and the two-part Reclining Figure, 1963-65, sited in a large pool outside the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York; and a Reclining Figure in travertine marble for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.


By 1960, Moore was arguably at the height of his powers.

Although best known for his monumental bronze sculptures, over the course of his career he also made carvings, drawings and prints, and designed textiles and tapestries.

Moore enjoyed exploring the possibilities of printmaking and installed a printing press in his studio at Perry Green.

One of his most significant etching projects was based on an elephant skull in his studio, an impressive object in his ‘library’ of natural forms. Moore found inspiration in this collection of objects, which included bones, flints, shells and pebbles.

He published the Elephant Skull Album, containing 38 etchings, in 1970.

A vintage colour photo of artist Henry Moore working in his studio, He is using an elephant skull as a reference for an etching.
Henry Moore at work on an etching plate for the Elephant Skull album, Perry Green c.1970. Photo: Errol Jackson.
A blue toned tapestry, Three Fates by Henry Moore, hanging in a wood beamed barn with skylight above.
Henry Moore, 'Three Fates' 1983-84 in the Aisled Barn. Photo: Jonty Wilde.


Moore’s interest in working across media and in different scales also saw a number of his drawings adapted into tapestries.

He collaborated with tapestry studios on numerous occasions, including Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh in 1950 and Brose Patrick Studios between 1971 and 1974.

In 1980, Moore purchased a beautiful sixteenth-century barn which he had carefully reconstructed near his studios. The same year, he began working with West Dean Tapestry Studio in Sussex to create a group of tapestries based on his drawings, which he wanted to hang in the timbered bays of what became known as the Aisled Barn.

Moore believed that these tapestries should not be exact replicas of his drawings, but should act as a translation from one medium to another. He worked closely with highly skilled weavers to translate his original drawings into textiles, tasking them to capture the colour and tonality of his works.

Each tapestry took several months to complete, as the weavers dyed wool to accurately achieve the different effects of Moore’s drawing media. In total, 23 tapestries were made, several of which can still be seen hanging in the Aisled Barn as they were originally intended.

Read more

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