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

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Touring exhibition

Georgia O’Keeffe and Henry Moore: Giants of Modern Art

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada

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Side-by-side comparison of a painting by Georgia O'Keefe of a black-and-white striped, trumpet-like flower, next to a black sculpture by Henry Moore of a standing figure encased in an oval 'shell'. The two artworks bear some striking similarities.

This groundbreaking exhibition creates a new dialogue between the work of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) and Henry Moore (1898-1986), exploring how these iconic 20th-century artists developed their own shape of modern art firmly rooted in the natural world.

 

A striking dialogue inspired by nature

As two of the greatest and most recognized names in the history of Modern art, O’Keeffe and Moore have been the subjects of innumerable exhibitions and publications.

Now, for the first time, their lives and art are examined in parallel in this exhibition presenting over 120 works, together with recreations of each artist’s studio, in a partnership between the Henry Moore Foundation and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In the resulting unique and powerful dialogue, O’Keeffe’s paintings and Moore’s sculptures underscore the fundamental relationship between humanity and the natural world – a theme that will undoubtedly resonate with audiences today.

Black and White photo of Henry Moore in middle age, standing in a studio by a wooden sculpture that is part way through being carved. Tools are dotted around the room, and chips of wood are spread across the floor.
Painting by Georgia O'Keefe. A distant mountain is framed through the eye socket of an animal's skull, cropped in close to make it hard to tell what it is at first.

The real and the surreal

The exhibition begins with an introduction to the artists’ life drawings and early studies from nature, as well as an overview of the influence of Surrealism on their individual work.

The international Surrealist movement, which was prominent during the 1930s, inspired O’Keeffe to explore dreamlike imagery and Moore to create what he called his ‘transformation drawings’, depicting natural forms metamorphosing into human figures, as well as his Helmet Head sculptures.

The artists’ studios

At the heart of the exhibition are the meticulous recreations of O’Keeffe’s and Moore’s individual studios, which highlight the remarkable commonalities between each artist’s vast collections of found objects.

Their abrupt departure from the art centres of New York City and London, respectively, occurred at similar moments in their artistic careers. In 1941, following the bombing that damaged his home and studio in London, Moore relocated to Hertfordshire, England. Just a few years later, in 1946, O’Keeffe moved from New York to the desert of New Mexico, where she had spent many previous summers.

Though they remained within reach of city life and did not retreat into complete social isolation, the artists chose rural settings that offered each of them total immersion in the natural world. Original and replica furnishings bring to life the reconstructed studios in the galleries displaying how both Moore and O’Keeffe chose to work in relatively small spaces, surrounded by the objects they collected from nature.

Shelves inside Henry Moore's Bourne Maquette Studio displaying plaster sculpture models and found objects.
Painting by Georgia O'Keefe of an animal's pelvic bone. It has been painted from an angle that makes it appears massive against the landscape behind it.

Bones and stones

One of the sections in the exhibition focuses on a significant source of inspiration for both artists: bones. Although O’Keeffe and Moore had different approaches to exploring bones as subject matter, they both looked to the sky through their openings as a means of playing with perspective and scale.

Another section turns to the importance of the artists’ collections of pebbles, flint stones, river rocks and ironstone that informed many of O’Keeffe’s paintings and Moore’s sculptures. Both artists were fascinated with the pitted and textured surfaces of stones.

Seashells and flowers

This section delves into each artist’s exploration of interrelated forms through organic objects such as flowers and seashells, in order to reveal the evolution of their respective work.

O’Keeffe and Moore were equally taken with nature’s structures, which are echoed in their art. The dialogue between the works showcased here offers new and significant insight into O’Keeffe’s floral paintings that is at odds with the prevailing sexualized reading of her work, which she repeatedly refuted.

Painting of a pink spiral shell by Georgia O'Keefe.
Painting by Georgia O'Keefe of a mountainous landscape in rich, earthy tones of green, teal, pink and brown.

Landscapes of forms

The last section of the exhibition features the artists’ later works: landscapes characterized by streamlined forms and exaggerated scale that create a monumental simplicity.

Some of the works by Moore illustrate his fragmentation of the figure to recreate it as a metaphoric landscape, in which knees and breasts become mountains and valleys, and folds of drapery become the ripples of a shoreline or the encrusted surface of the earth. Meanwhile, O’Keeffe’s compositions of bands of colour and light evoke the passage of time and movement over the landscape.

Curated by Anita Feldman, The San Diego Museum of Art’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Education, the exhibition was originally shown at The San Diego Museum of Art (13 May – 27 August 2023) and Albuquerque Museum (30 September – 31 December 2023).

Works in the exhibition

The exhibition features over 100 paintings and sculptures which trace their artistic development and explore Surrealist concepts such as the pairing of objects and metamorphosis. The exhibition also includes recreations of the artists’ studios, complete with their original contents of found objects, tools and furnishings.

 

View list of works in our online catalogue

Getting here

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

1380 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal
Quebec
H3G 1J5

Canada

T:  514-285-2000