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'The Falling Warrior', 1956-59, by Henry Moore (1898-1986)


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About the artwork

Henry Moore was one of the finest sculptors of the 20th century. "The Falling Warrior" is an abstract piece, yet Henry Moore was profoundly inspired by natural forms and made extensive studies of the human body. In this sculpture the human form is easily recognisable, despite the lack of detail.

Moore was greatly affected by his experiences of the First and Second World Wars. "The Falling Warrior" conjures up the moment of agony just before death.

He was also influenced by the heroes of Greek mythology. In this sculpture Moore has stripped the figure down to its basic elements. Here the warrior seems to lack the power of a traditional hero and, while the piece has immense vitality, the sculpture would seem to suggest the failure of brute strength and the horror of war.

Henry Moore grew up in the small town of Castleford in Yorkshire, England, the seventh child of a miner. He initially trained as a teacher before studying at the Leeds School of Art. In 1921 he was awarded a scholarship to study sculpture at the Royal College of Arts in London.

During the 1920s students were taught sculpture by copying from classical and Renaissance statues. However Moore was more interested in the ethnographic collections of the British Museum and was particularly drawn to Mexican, Sumerian and Egyptian art.

Moore's break with the classical tradition of sculpture was not always appreciated. While teaching at the Royal Academy of Arts he was viewed with hostility and even seen as corrupting young artists. He finally resigned from his post in 1931 and used his new-found freedom to invent new sculptural forms. This was the most abstract period in Moore's work.

In the 1960s he revealed that it was only as late as the 1950s that he managed to overcome his dislike for Greek and Renaissance art and started appreciating the beauty of the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum.

Moore believed that sculpture should be truthful to its materials. He preferred carving because he enjoyed the physical effort involved, the need, as he stated "to overcome the resistance of the material by sheer determination and hard work."

He used drawings throughout his career to observe nature, to explore the possibilities of the human body and to generate ideas for his work. In the 1950s Moore used maquettes (small models of his ideas) more than drawings in order to try out his ideas for sculpture.

The sculpture

"The Falling Warrior" is one of the three warriors made by Moore around 1956. He commented on this particular piece : "In the Falling Warrior sculpture I wanted a figure that was still alive. The pose in the first maquette was that of a completely dead figure and so I altered it to make the action that of a figure in the act of falling and the shield became a support for the warrior emphasising the dramatic moment that precedes death".

The theme of "The Falling Warrior" alludes to Moore's experiences of war: he had served in France in 1917 and returned to England to recover after being gassed in the battle of Cambrai. During the Second World War his studio in London was destroyed in a bombing raid; as the Official War Artist he completed a number of drawings of people sheltering and sleeping on London's underground stations.

Moore was fascinated with the heroes of Greek mythology, and the scenes of combat often seen on Ancient Greek pottery may also have been a source of inspiration. In Moore's work, however, male figures are represented in defensive poses and bear no relation to masculine strength. Instead they seem to allude to the failure of brute force.

Moore was extraordinarily skilled in blending abstract elements with figurative ones. In "The Falling Warrior" the human body is easily recognisable, yet details are excluded and the head resembles a stone. Moore regarded the head as the most important part of a piece of sculpture: " It is because of the head's importance that I often reduce it in size to make the rest more monumental ".

The surface of the sculpture is pitted with grooves and marks, alternatively smooth and broken like the surface of a rock which has been eroded by the elements. The bronze was treated with chemicals to look like rust or moss and to suggest organic decay. For Moore the organic forms of nature enclose the meaning and power of life.

Moore believed that sculpture should always be slightly obscure and ambiguous and should make people look and think; it should never tell people all about itself immediately. He also believed that sculpture is one of the most difficult arts to appreciate, because it is essentially form in three dimensions and most people find form much more difficult to perceive than colour.

"The Falling Warrior" was bought from Henry Moore in 1961. It is the seventh of eleven casts made from the original plaster maquette. Two more of the eleven casts can be seen in Huddersfield Art Gallery and in the courtyard of Clare College, Cambridge.

www.henry-moore-fdn.co.uk [opens new window]