We recognised Henry Moore’s statues instantly – all those monumental curves and glistening bronzes – but we realised we knew nothing about Moore, the man. We would have been hard pushed to tell you what he looked like. So, our first stop at the Henry Moore Foundation was Hoglands, Moore’s home for half a century.
Even today, Hoglands feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. In 1940 it must’ve seemed a world away from blitzed war-torn London and the bombed house the Moores left behind in Hampstead. In the beginning, Irina and Henry lived in half the house. The village shop was in what is now the front garden. Hoglands is cute and cottagey. Small, cramped rooms, groaning under the weight of collections; wonky walls, and low ceilings – there is nothing grand or showy about this house. Nothing that screams that Moore was at one point the second highest tax payer in England.
But plenty shouts out about what inspired Moore, what made him tick. The drawing cum reception room – a show place for clients, dealers, friends and admirers, was choc-a-block with an amazing array of objects; a rhino thigh bone, an elephants tooth, flints, roots, a miners lamp and helmet, shells, art from Africa and South America, a Rodin sculpture, things found, things given, things bought. Bulbous curvy objects that invited (but did not allow) touch, that made me want to rest my hand in admiration and gratitude. And then there were the bookcases stuffed with books about The British Museum, Greek icons, Monet, Manet, Kenneth Clark – and much more, an endless list indicating curiosity, enchantment and wonder. There were natural things raised to the level of art form – pebbles and bits of bones tacked to plinths – ordinary objects made extraordinary. Although of course, they were extraordinary all along.
‘We often get people visiting from the area, who say they frequently brought Moore a stone or a pebble’, the guide told us, ‘The poor man must’ve had a quarry full of the stuff. But by all accounts he was always very gracious, very welcoming’.
‘Why did he like sheep so much?’, I asked, thinking out loud. ‘At first, he thought of them as little more than woolly blobs, but watching them through a studio window, he began to feel that each of them had a character. He began to draw them, and they’d freeze, and when they moved, he could make them stand still again simply by tapping on the window – as if they were holding a pose for him’. Some of this did seem far-fetched to me. Moore obviously loved nature, but the idea of sheep with character blew my mind a little. ‘Aren’t sheep supposed to be stupid?’, again I thought out loud. Another lady on the tour seemed put out: ‘They are doing studies into sheep intelligence at Cambridge University – they can recognise faces you know’, she admonished me somewhat. The tour guide continued: ‘Yes, and there is footage of sheep crossing a cattle grid by rolling over it’. I stood corrected.
We moved into another small room, used by the family as a sitting room. ‘It’s like the room I grew up in’, said the sheep lady ‘but with the Rodin and the Courbets’, she laughed. Old school, unchanged since the 1950’s, Moore lived here until 1986. Cigarettes on top of the TV, a bowl of match-books, a coal fire. A 1940’s American fridge stood against the back wall of the kitchen; it worked, so the Moores felt no need to update or change it.
Land – that’s what the Moores were interested in. The estate at Perry Green now covers more than seventy acres. We walked amongst Moore’s sculptures and I loved the way they fitted into the landscape, framing it, reflecting it, enhancing it, merging with it. In the sunlight, the bronzes were surprising warm to touch. The shapes were stocky and bulky, muscular and powerful, but oh, so feminine and flowing. (Moore claimed that one of his earliest sculptural experiences was massaging his mother’s arthritic back). The colours and textures were a revelation – green and gold, bronze and brown. Moore controlled it all, choosing and fixing the patina; cross-hatching some areas, leaving others supple and smooth. The artworks remain unchanged by nature; are steadfast in the midst of it. Once made, like the 1940’s fridge they were here to stay.
We walked through the sheep fields and circled ‘Large Reclining Figure’. Nature did it’s thing all around us. Lambs bleated after their mums, and wagged tails as they suckled. Looking over them, on a small mound, the ‘Large Reclining Figure’ had a maternal air. She seemed as much a natural part of the landscape as the sheep themselves. Silhouetted against a backdrop of sky, grass blowing at her base, sheep dotted around, she was both art and nature; a fitting together of forms.
We had to tear ourselves away. It was heavenly. But dogs know nothing about art, and we had to get home to Bobby and Sophie.
Henry Moore Foundation.
Open 2018 from Friday 30 March to Sunday 28 October
Wednesday-Sunday & Bank Holidays 11.00-17.00
Hoglands tour only accessible by timed entry ticket. Additional charge of £5. Tour approx. 40 minutes.