Born into a mining family in Castleford, West Yorkshire, Moore is one of the most important artists of the 20th century and was a founding patron of YSP. Henry Moore: Back to a Land is produced in partnership with The Henry Moore Foundation. Henry Moore: Back to a Land explores the artist’s radical notion of placing sculpture in the landscape, something which forever changed British sculpture. Moore was committed to showing his work in the open air and in the rolling hills of YSP’s former Deer Park in particular. Here, it can be experienced with the resident flock of sheep, an animal described by the artist as an ideal foil for the appreciation of his work, being exactly the right size and scale. The exhibition takes its title from Jacquetta Hawkes’ seminal book A Land (1951), a poetic history of the physical landscape of Britain. Moore illustrated a 1954 edition of the book and the exhibition features these originals.
Monumental sculptures, such as Large Two Forms (1966–69) and Large Reclining Figure (1983), are displayed against the beautiful and historic vistas of the Bretton Estate. Experienced as monuments in the landscape, and referencing prehistoric land interventions, Moore’s sculptures in the open air are ever changing, given life through different skies, weather and season. This interest in the relationship between sculpture and landscape can be seen in the contemporary works by David Nash, Andy Goldsworthy and other Land Artists that share the estate. Carefully chosen sculptures are curated in relation to each other, the outdoor pieces visible from the galleries and the historic yew hedge forming a dramatic backdrop to the indoor spaces.
Exploring scale and the interplay between internal and external spaces, Henry Moore: Back to a Land also emphasises the artist’s constant investigation of land, from the black coal seams of his hometown and the rich geology of Britain, to the mystical ancient forms of Stonehenge. Inside the award-winning and purpose-built Underground Gallery, sculptures, maquettes and rarely seen works on paper, such as Rocky Landscape (1982), demonstrate Moore’s understanding of geology and rock formations, and reference his childhood experience of caves.
The human figure, like the landscape, was at the core of Moore’s practice and works in the exhibition explore the relationship between figure and landscape through both the iconic large-scale sculptures for which Moore is so well known, as well as through rarely seen two-dimensional works. Moore was able to explore on paper imaginary landscapes not possible in three dimensions, drawn from his own psyche and experiences. In the atmospheric etching, Reclining Figure in Dark Landscape (1979–80), landscape and figure become a single formidable being, while the etching Elephant Skull (1970), which could be mistaken for a scene of rocks and crevices, demonstrates Moore’s interest in bones and skeletal structures – the interior space of the body in relation to that of the earth.
The themes of the exhibition are given context by a carefully selected display of personal artefacts, notes, sketches and photographs, curated by the artist’s only child Mary Moore.