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The war years

Chapter 3

Against the backdrop of war, Henry Moore firmly established his reputation on the global stage in the 1940s, appointed by the British government as an official war artist and staging his first international exhibitions.

A drawing of two people under blankets, sleeping in a tunnel. The drawing is muted, mainly done with black crayon, with some highlights picked out in light red and yellow.

Leaving London

In 1940 Henry and Irina’s street in Hampstead was bombed, narrowly missing but damaging their studio. Fortunately, the couple had been away visiting friends in Hertfordshire at the time. On discovering the damage they quickly left London again.

They returned to Hertfordshire, deciding to rent part of a farmhouse called ‘Hoglands’ in Perry Green near Much Hadham. Though initially they planned to stay here just for the duration of the war, it would become their home for the rest of their lives.

A black and white photo showing the rear of an old farmhouse. A man, in his early 40s, is standing in an open doorway in the left of frame.
Henry Moore stands in the doorway at the rear of Hoglands, c.1940. Photo: Henry Moore Archive.
Black and white photo of a man wearing an apron, standing outdoors in a garden next to a sculpture of a torso on a plinth.
Henry Moore at Perry Green with 'Draped Torso' 1953 (LH 338) in 1954. Photo: Ida Kar.

At first, the Moores shared the house with another family, but the sale of a 1939 elmwood Reclining Figure – for £300 to fellow artist Gordon Onslow Ford – soon allowed them to buy the whole house.

As Moore sold more sculptures over the next few years, the couple managed to buy the house, followed by the surrounding land and buildings. By repurposing and constructing buildings on the site, Moore created numerous studios for making different types of work.

The sprawling estate provided space for Moore to display his large-scale sculptures against the landscape. Irina created a beautiful and vibrant garden – a perfect backdrop to her husband’s work.

War artist

During the war years in Perry Green, Moore joined the local Home Guard. Living less than thirty miles north of London, he continued to visit the city.

Moore dedicated himself to drawing at this time, partly due to a shortage of materials for making sculpture. He began drawing the crowds of people huddled in the London Underground during air raids, seeing comparisons between figures sleeping under blankets and his own reclining figures, and the holes of the tunnels and those in his sculptures.

In 1941 Moore became an official war artist, and was commissioned to create more of these ‘Shelter Drawings’. This work transformed his reputation, making him known to a much wider audience.


Henry Moore, 'Tube Shelter Perspective: The Liverpool Street Extension' 1941, pencil, wax crayon, coloured crayon, watercolour, wash, pen and ink.
A black and white photo taken in a coal mine in 1942. The artist Henry Moore is sketching a coalminer as he works at the coal face. The miner is wearing a helmet and is smeared with coal dust.
Henry Moore sketching Jack Hancock, a coalminer working at Wheldale Colliery, Castleford, in 1942. Photo: Reuben Saidman.

In August 1941, Moore was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to create drawings of the coalminers at Wheldale Colliery near Castleford, where his father had worked.

He began his observations in the mine in December of that year, completing the commission the following June.

Moore first returned to making sculpture following a commission from St Matthew’s Church in Northampton. His Madonna and Child, carved from Horton Stone, was completed in 1944.

After the war, Moore would dedicate himself once again to his sculpture.

A growing international career

As well as continuing to make drawings during the war, Moore also staged his first retrospective exhibition. This was held in 1941 at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, alongside work by his friends Graham Sutherland and John Piper.

In the same year, Moore was appointed a Trustee of the Tate Gallery, a position he held intermittently until 1956.

Moore held his first solo exhibition outside the UK in 1943, at the Buchholz Gallery in New York. In 1945 the University of Leeds awarded him the first of many honorary degrees.

In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed the first major international retrospective of Moore’s work. Moore credited this show with generating the global attention his art received in the years that followed.

A black and white photo of a sculpture exhibition displayed in a gallery. In the first room, nearest the camera, four large carvings are displayed on plinths. Visible through a doorway, in the next room, are two pictures hanging on the wall and one further sculpture.
Moore's carvings on display in Temple Newsam House, Leeds, 1941. Photo: C.R.H. Pickard & Son.

“Perhaps now that the war is completely over, the isolated, cut-off feeling we’ve all had, particularly here in England, may quickly go… Though I myself think that I have been particularly lucky throughout the war.

“Happiest thing of all is that I have been able to go on working all through – although not all the time at exactly what I would have liked – that is I’ve not been free to give the majority (and proper proportion) of my time to my real work of sculpture. But that’s no longer so.”

Henry Moore, 1973

(As quoted in Henry J. Seldis, Henry Moore in America, 1973, p.65)

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