Henry Moore was, it seems, one of the most notable fresh-air fiends in art history. Not only did he prefer to carve stone outside — working in his studio felt like being in ‘prison’ — but he felt the sculpture came out better that way too, in natural light. What’s more, he believed that the finished works looked at their best in the open air.
This last idea is tested in a new exhibition, Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration — and it turns out that the artist was absolutely right. This — the latest in an enterprising series of shows at this north Norfolk mansion — is a focused selection, not a massive retrospective. Nonetheless, it prompts several unexpected conclusions.
Firstly it suggests, as he himself insisted, that Moore was an outdoors sculptor (not all of them are; Moore’s old protégé Anthony Caro felt, also rightly, that his own work worked best inside, enclosed by the walls of a white cube). In fact, you are greeted by a powerful demonstration of that point as you arrive. There, parked opposite the grandly reticent entrance front, is ‘Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae’, 1968–69, in bronze: a colossal work some 24-feet long, versions of which are distributed around the world, including one outside Dallas City Hall and another in a plaza in Seattle.