Henry Moore, O.M., C.H.
- Henry Moore OM, CH
- shelter scene: bunks in london underground
- signed and titled
- pencil, wax crayon, coloured crayon, sepia wash, pen and ink and gouache on cream medium-weight wove
- 37.5 by 27.5cm.; 14¾ by 10¾in.
Executed circa 1942.
The present work is registered in the Henry Moore Foundation archive as HMF 1792b.
Whilst much of the most important art produced by British artists in response to the First World War concentrated on the actual conflict, especially the Western Front, the art that resulted from the Second World War was inevitably very different in character. The siege-like nature of the war, and the German bombing raids in particular, essentially put the general populace to the fore. Much of the most successful art produced during this period dealt with the effect of the conflict on ordinary Britons, either through the actual consequences of enemy action, or the drastic changes in lifestyle that resulted.
Moore had been approached by Sir Kenneth Clark to become involved in the War Artist scheme but his response had been rather lukewarm, feeling uncertain that his style was really appropriate. However, circumstances were to dictate otherwise. Unlike his friends Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, who had moved from London to St Ives shortly after the outbreak of the war, Moore had retained his studio in Hampstead and like most Londoners tried to retain the semblance of as normal a life as possible. However, during the summer of 1940 the Luftwaffe air attacks across the country, and particularly on London, became increasingly intense. Whilst there was official provision made for shelters, many Londoners preferred the impromptu shelter offered by the deeper stations in the tube network. On September 11th 1940, Moore and his wife were returning from supper with friends in the centre of town. As their car was temporarily out of action, they chose to travel on the tube. The sirens sounded during their journey and by the time they got to their home station, Belsize Park, Moore had become fascinated by the large numbers of people sheltering on the station platforms. Moore made his first drawing of the subject the following day and was then to return many times to study the people gathered there. Initially this was a very private exercise for Moore, and for the next few months he observed his subject anonymously.
Instead of drawing, I would wander casually past a group of people half a dozen times or so, pretending to be unaware of them. Sometimes I climbed a staircase so that I could write down a note on the back of an envelope without being seen. A note like "two people sleeping under one blanket" would be enough of a reminder to enable me to make a sketch next day. (The artist, 'Introduction', Shelter Sketchbook, Marlborough, London 1967)
But the scenes of the shelter world, static figures asleep – reclining figures – remained vivid in my mind, I felt somehow drawn to it all. Here was something I couldn't help doing. (James Johnson Sweeney, 'Henry Moore', Partisan Review, New York March – April 1947, p.184)
Moore showed some of the sketchbooks to Kenneth Clark in December 1940. Clark's immediate excitement resulted in Moore making enlarged versions of some of the drawings which would then be acquired by the WAAC, and this marked the point at which the drawings began to be exhibited publicly. Whilst Moore was a well-known and highly regarded artist within the art world, the public exposure of the Shelter Drawings secured his popular appeal. Rightly or wrongly, the sense of stoic resilience that the circumstances virtually guaranteed would be read into the drawings gave them a resonance that was perfectly in tune with the official propaganda direction, and may perhaps explain why Moore very quickly moved to other subjects. However, the drawings hold a crucially important position in Moore's oeuvre. In artistic terms, the echoes of the draped figures would resonate through many of his great sculptures of the following decade. In terms of his public reception, their superb ability to express a very real sense of human existence in adversity gave them extraordinary public appeal, and thus when Moore's first New York exhibition at Curt Valentin's gallery took place, the combination of their subject and the context of the progression of the war ensured that they were amongst the first pieces of Moore's work to enter some important American collections.