Almost fifty years since the memorable exhibition held at the Forte di Belvedere in 1972, the works of Henry Moore return to Florence. The Museo Novecento pays homage to him with a monographic show organised in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation, which concentrates on a central aspect of his art: the relationship between drawing and sculpture. Henry Moore. The Sculptor’s drawing, curated by Sebastiano Barassi, Head of Henry Moore Collections and Exhibitions, and Sergio Risaliti, Artistic Director of the Museo Novecento, is organized in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation, with the contribution of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, from 18 January to 22 August 2021. The Florentine museum will host a substantial selection of drawings, about seventy, along with graphics and sculptures.
“Having arrived after two years of demanding research to create a scientific collaboration with the prestigious Henry Moore Foundation to bring the master’s works back to Florence, about fifty years after the epochal exhibition at the Forte di Belvedere, is a source of pride and immense satisfaction. – said Sergio Risaliti, artistic director of the Museo Novecento and curator of the exhibition with Sebastiano Barassi -. “Henry Moore. The Sculptor’s Drawing”, is intended to be a gift to the city that has suffered a dramatic pandemic crisis and is coming out of this difficult situation with difficulty but with courage and pride. The presence at this historical moment of Henry Moore’s works in Florence is also a reminder of the strength of art in the greatest human and social difficulties.”
The exhibition is an opportunity to deepen the conceptual and formal genesis of Moore’s work through the analysis of some of the recurring iconographic themes: natural forms such as rocks, pebbles, roots, and trunks, but also animals, skulls, and the hands of the artist become the focus of the exhibition. Taking its cue from a reinterpretation of some central themes in Moore’s production, the exhibition intends to offer an in-depth study on the value of drawing in his almost daily practice and on its relationship with sculpture. According to Moore: “The observation of nature is decisive in the life of an artist. Thanks to nature, the sculptor too, enriches his knowledge of form, finds nutriment for inspiration, and maintains a freshness of vision, avoiding becoming crystallized in the repetition of formulas”.
In the ground floor room of the Museo Novecento, an elephant skull from the artist’s studio will be exceptionally exhibited, on which Moore has applied himself constantly over the years creating a series of engravings, which underline the analysis of shapes from points of varied views and with multiple formal solutions.
Henry Moore. The sculptor’s drawing emphasizes the graphic production of this protagonist of contemporary sculpture, who has assimilated the lesson of primitivist and extra-European sculpture, that of the historical avant-gardes and above all the great Italian tradition of Renaissance masters active in Florence and Tuscany.
The exhibition, significant for the presence of works and the unprecedented nature of the choice, the result of a scientific preparation that has engaged the museum in the last two years, therefore strengthens Moore’s bond with the territory, which still houses works by the artist – for example, the Warrior in the Cloister of Santa Croce and the monumental marble sculpture in nearby Prato – and which hosted, in addition to the important exhibition of 1972, an exhibition in the Sala d’Arme of Palazzo Vecchio in 1987. It should be remembered that Florence has represented a salient and perhaps crucial moment in the formation of Moore’s artistic genius, who arrived in the city for the first time in 1925, during his first study trip to Italy, thanks to a scholarship made available by the Royal College of Art. That was the occasion to admire and observe the creations of the great masters of the past, including Giotto, Donatello, Masaccio and above all Michelangelo.
“The main purpose of my drawings is to help me sculpt. Drawing is in fact a means to generate ideas for the sculpture, to pull out from myself the initial idea, to organise the ideas and attempt to develop them … I use drawing also as a method of study and observation of nature (nude studies, studies of shells, bones, and other things). I also happen at times to draw for the pure pleasure of doing so”, Moore said.
Lingering over the graphic works of Henry Moore and some of his favourite themes represented in drawings — nature, rocks, animals, bones, monoliths, and hands — means entering into the heart of the genesis of his art. The drawing appears not only as a preparatory exercise for the sculptor, who is focused on blocking the imagination and then understanding the forms and their three-dimensional development. In fact, from the selection of the works, an autonomous, poetically free practice emerges, and which in any case seems to indicate with extreme precision what were the natural sources of inspiration for the great artist from his youth, who stated: “The profound interest I have in the human figure has not prevented me from always devoting great attention to natural forms, such as bones, shells, rocks, and so on”.
Starting from an investigation into Henry Moore’s relationship with the natural datum and with the underlying principles of rhythm and form, a narrative starts from the relationship between the artist’s image and the rocky landscape, and then develops around the study of nature and the mutual mutations between the natural element and the human figure, up to the representation of the primordial form. The attention to the structural strength that underlies the different natural conformations, combined with the observation of human anatomy and the surrounding space, forms the basis of a survey of some iconographic motifs recurring in Moore’s graphic production. Among these, the landscapes, the rocks, the trees, the animals, the monoliths, the artist’s hands stand out.
The choice of themes is dictated by the desire to “dig” in an area of Henry Moore’s work so far little investigated and less known to the general Italian public, whose knowledge is mainly linked to the sculptures representing recumbent figures and the drawings of the Second World War. Connected by a common study on the principles of rhythm, structure, and form, the subjects exhibited make it possible to reread Moore’s production, revealing important references to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, between Romantic landscape painting (the reference is, in particular, to the drawings dedicated to atmospheric events, to William Turner, for example) and the more typically scientific observation (take, for instance, the drawings dedicated to animals typical of a certain Anglo-Saxon culture). The theme of hands, finally, allows us to take a close look at another subject dear to the artist. For Moore, in fact, the hands are not only indispensable tools in conducting an artistic activity, they are in turn a subject that permits him to transmit an ample spectrum of emotions, sensations, and sentiments. The motif of the hands — which also recurs with other sculptors; take Auguste Rodin, for example — is also associated with the origin of creation and the construction of form in space. The hands, beyond the gaze, become the vehicle of the profound connection between the natural object and the inner consciousness of it.
According to Moore, in fact: “For the sculptor, the perception of form is an interior sensation: he in fact perceives every shape, whatever its dimensions and its complexity, as though it were contained in the hollow of his hand, and mentally visualised in the multiplicity of its aspects”.
It was time now for the city of Florence, the cradle of humanism in art, to return to pay homage to Henry Moore, the modern sculptor who more than any other was able to interpret and develop the lessons of the great Renaissance masters.
“An art that today is even more exemplary than ever in showing the presence of man, beyond any abstract art, in his relationship with history and nature, his torments and anxieties, his conflicts and reconciliations”, said Risaliti, Artistic Director of the Museo Novecento.
A new humanism in the art that Moore was aware of: “I disapprove of the idea according to which contemporary art is an act of escape from reality. […] It is precisely through art that it is possible to delve even more deeply into life itself. Art is not a sedative or a drug, nor a simple exercise of good taste; nor is it an embellishment of reality with pleasant combinations of forms and colours; it is instead an expression of the meaning of life and an exhortation to commit oneself through even greater efforts”. These are Moore’s words, which are valid as viaticum to this exhibition and perhaps also to those who still want to find in art a tool to improve their relationship with reality, others, and the nature that surrounds us.