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Henry Moore: Photography and Scale

Discover how Henry Moore used photography throughout his career to visualise his sculptures at different scales, and plan installations and exhibitions around the world.

An elderly man is stood over a tripod with an old camera, taking a photo of a small bronze sculpture on a plinth.

Henry Moore is best known for his public monumental bronze sculptures which can be seen around the world. His practice in making these large bronzes was to start with a small “maquette”, which he enlarged to make the final monumental sculpture.

Earlier in his career, before he had begun to work at the large sizes of his later sculpture, Moore was already interested in scale. In 1937 he wrote that “if practical considerations allowed me … I should like to work on large carvings more often than I do”.  At this time he was already experimenting with photographing sculptures up close against neutral backgrounds or natural landscapes to give the illusion of enormous size.

A small lead sculpture of a reclining woman by Henry Moore, photographed with false perspective to appear larger against the skyline.
Henry Moore, 'Reclining Figure' (LH 192) 1938, lead.
A small, speckled stone sculpture by Henry Moore, photographed against the Kent landscape, using forced perspective to appear at monumental scale.
Henry Moore, 'Reclining Figure' (LH 178) 1937, Hopton Wood stone.

Many of the photographs in the Henry Moore Archive collection attest to Moore’s preoccupation with this photographic ambiguity.

An early example shows a model of his 1938 Reclining Figure against a backdrop of the Kent landscape. It wasn’t until 1984 that the figure was finally enlarged, and a bronze cast is now permanently sited at Henry Moore Studios & Gardens in Perry Green.

Other works Moore photographed in this way, such as his 1937 stone Reclining Figure, now in the collection of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, were never enlarged. They appear at monumental scale only in Moore’s photographs and imagination.

“This was a trial series. In order to help me learn to photograph his work, Moore very helpfully suggested that I take seven bronze maquettes back to Hampstead to practise on … Moore did not like the plain grey paper background. He preferred a ‘natural’ background with some tone variation that did not give away the scale of the object e.g. stone slab, but not grained wood nor bricks, since all maquettes are conceived to be enlarged.”

Photographer Errol Jackson, writing about one of his earliest sets of photographs for Henry Moore, January 1964

Errol Jackson was a photographer with whom Moore worked for many years. Jackson kept a log of every roll of film he shot, listing the artworks and including notes on the circumstances of the shoot. These provide valuable evidence of how Moore used this practice in the later part of his career.

The idea that photographs of a sculpture should not reveal the scale of the work occurs several times in Jackson’s early notes. Considering another set of images, from July 1964, Jackson writes: “None of these backgrounds reveal the size of the maquettes, which was another of Moore’s rules.” One of the backgrounds used in this session was the landscape outside Moore’s studio, “so that the maquette looks like a full-scale model”.

Forced perspective photography

These photographs by Errol Jackson show the same Working Model for Nuclear Energy. The close-up photography in the landscape makes it look much larger than against a neutral backdrop in the studio.

Similarly, Jackson has made use of false perspective photographing three ‘Upright Motive’ maquettes in a tray of sand. The photo makes them look nearly identical to the finished, full-size sculptures, sited in the Kröller-Müller sculpture park in the Netherlands.

Moore started to use this photographic technique to visualise how a large-scale work would look in a particular setting. In 1964, Jackson photographed three of Moore’s maquettes for upright motives in a tray of sand, to see how they would look on the base he designed for the Kröller-Müller sculpture park in the Netherlands.

In 1972, Moore and Jackson used this technique on a larger scale to help plan the exhibition at the Forte di Belvedere in Florence that year. The exhibition was phenomenally successful, but Moore’s use of photography in planning it and other major installations is rarely remembered.

“Moore’s care at this time was arranging the siting of his sculptures, and this can be illustrated by this example.  On an early visit that year to the Terrace, he took 35 mm. black-and-white photographs of the positions for the sculptures, showing the panoramic views of Florence, etc. in the background.  These were enlarged to 16″ × 20″ approximately, very grainy prints which he roughly hand-coloured – sky was blue, grass green, stone walls yellow-gray.  Then he arranged the maquettes of the sculptures in front of these prints and I had to photograph them on colour transparencies which he sent to Florence.”

Photographer Errol Jackson, notes describing the session photographing Moore’s maquettes for an exhibition in Florence, 1972

Planning exhibitions

Moore photographed smaller models of his sculptures against backdrops to prepare for exhibitions. These photos show maquettes in front of a backdrop of the Florence skyline in 1972.