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: Institute Recieves Gift of Contemporary Sculpture Warrior with Shield by Henry Moore


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Through the generosity of The John Cowles Foundation, the Institute has recently acquired Warrior with Shield, a major work in bronze by the English sculptor Henry Moore. Executed in 1953-1954, this acquisition constitutes the first important object of a strictly contemporary nature to enter the Institute's collection. The fact that this acquisition represents the field of sculpture is indeed significant. The diverse directions and rewarding possibilities of contemporary sculpture have elevated the medium to new heights of creative vitality in most of the countries of the free world. Although the chief means of expression in great civilizations of the past, sculpture suffered a serious decline during the centuries between the death of Bernini and the birth of Rodin, who began the revitalizing process. Moore has contributed his share to the rebirth of the medium, for his disciplined art achieves a careful balance between freedom of form and profundity of content.Warrior with Shield illustrates this balance which Moore has consistently pursued throughout his career. First of all he has chosen clay and bronze as the materials most appropriate for successfully expressing his idea. These materials have permitted the sculptor greater freedom in modeling than possible in direct carving in wood or stone. He has carefully related, however, his modeled forms to nature. Although reduced to essentials, the athletic body of the Warrior is completely articulate. Moore has produced a figure which stands as a symbol of Britain's finest hour. Reminiscent of archaic Greek sculpture, the Warrior with his brute strength conveys a timeless message of resistance. He bears the same affinity to Stonehenge as he does to the Battle of Britain. The result of Moore's work is a spiritual expression in the true meaning of the words. The sculptor has taken a theme which is part of our own experience and has presented it in the contemporary idiom with success.Moore has developed as a sculptor of international fame against a national background singularly barren of distinction in his chosen profession. Much of his success is due to his insatiable curiosity about sculpture of all periods and places. For example, he has opened new horizons for himself by taking advantage of the communications and travel made possible by the technical advances of the twentieth century.Moore's first contact with the sculpture of the past was, of course, with the Medieval sculpture of his own country. He learned from it the lesson of "truth to material." His next contact was with the teachings and writings of the critic Roger Fry, who introduced him to primitive sculpture. From that point on, the British Museum provided him with source material; he assiduously studied African Negro, Pre-Columbian, and Easter Island sculpture; then Egyptian, Summerian and Greek sculpture. He found in the sculpture of these past or primitive civilizations a characteristic which is true of great sculpture of any period and which he has described as "tremendous power without loss of sensitiveness." With such a background it was possible for him to travel to France and Italy and not succumb to a superficial imitation of the Renaissance tradition.The influence of primitive sculpture on Moore's art must not be misunderstood. It is not to be confused with crudeness of execution of even simplification of forms, for Moore has written that "Primitive art means far more than that; it makes a straight-forward statement; its primary concern is with the elemental and its simplicity comes from direct and strong feeling, which is a very different thing from that fashionable simplicity-for-its-own-sake which is emptiness." Moore discovered that "the most striking quality common to all primitive art is its intense vitality. . . . All art has its roots in the 'primitives,' or else it becomes a decadent. . . ."In addition to ancient and primitive sculpture Moore owes a debt of gratitude to a small group of the most advanced sculptors of the twentieth century. The most important of these is Constantin Brancusi, whose organic abstractions have grown from an innate feeling for nature. Like Brancusi, Moore in his earlier work has allowed form to dictate content, searching for his image in the materials which he has selected for his sculpture. Again, like Brancusi, he has sought a purification of his image in order to achieve a balance between form and content. An analysis of Moore's sculpture clearly indicates that he feels the necessity for bringing order out of the chaotic tendencies of abstract sculpture. Furthermore, it reveals his ability to adapt form to the expression of a deeper understanding of the dignity of man and the mystery of his existence.Moore's sculpture of the 1920s and 1930s, mostly carved in wood or stone, is essentially abstract, but always related to nature. At this time Moore was preoccupied with the synthesis of abstract form and psychological research. Like others of his generation, he was interested in new thought. As Andrew C. Ritchie of the Museum of Modern Art has written, "As the Renaissance of artists helped Medieval men to develop a scientific knowledge of anatomy, so Moore, emphasizing certain features of the body and exaggerating or contracting others, suggests a sort of foetal character with other phenomena in nature which the biological and psychological sciences of our day are exploring." Moore's work dating from this time is both widely known and extremely popular.Towards the end of the 1930s a marked change in the content of Moore's sculpture became evident. This took the form of a stronger sense of compassion for his fellow human beings. Perhaps events in Spain, which he visited in 1937, and the beginning of World War II account for this change. Since the war Moore has frequently returned to elementary forms and rhythms of the human body as a means of expressing his thoughts. Perhaps his observation of life has led him to a more dynamic portrayal of the humanistic theme, for which he has a natural sympathy. Moore has continued to change his abstract style to suit his new range of imagery. His figure sculpture represents another logical step in his present evolution as an artist. His new style has been built upon his past method of handling abstract forms.The British, realizing that they have a first rate sculptor in their midst, have not hesitated to provide Moore with Challenging commissions, which he has undertaken with rewarding results. In the ten years since World War II, he has produced a half dozen major figures or groups. These include the Madonna and Child for the Church of St. Matthew in Northampton, the War Memorial for Dartington Hall, the Three Draped Figures for Battersea Park, and the Family Group for the Barclay School at Stevenage. Finally, he has undertaken, without commission, a monumental group called King and Queen and the figure called Warrior with Shield.The Institute's acquisition superbly illustrates Moore's affinity for primitive sculpture, at the same time his interest in natural forms. Moore himself has written, "The idea for The Warrior came to me at the end of 1952 or very early in 1953. It was evolved from a pebble I had found on a seashore in the summer of 1952, and which reminded me of the stump of a leg, amputated at the hip. Just as Leonardo says somewhere in his notebooks that a painter can find a battle scene in the lichen marks on a wall, so this gave me the start of The Warrior idea."From this accidental beginning, Moore took his theme, altering his choice of material to permit the greatest freedom of expression. As he has written, "First I added the body, one leg and one arm, and it became a wounded warrior, but at first the figure was reclining. A day or two later I added a shield and altered its position and arrangement into a seated figure and so it changed from an inactive pose into a figure which, though wounded, is still defiant. The head has a blunted and bull-like power but also a sort of dumb animal acceptance and forbearance of pain."Having decided upon the essentials of his form, he turned to the refinement of his content, conveying through his talent a very personal message. Regarding this he has written, "This figure may be emotionally connected (as one critic has suggested) with one's experiences and one's feelings and thoughts about England during the crucial and early part of the last war. The position of the shield and its angle gives protection from above. The distance of the shield from the body and the rectangular shape of the space enclosed between the inside surface of the shield and the concave front of the body is important."Moore's choice of subject has been acclaimed by critics as a further and successful departure from his earlier work. As he has written, "Except for a short period, when I did coal mining drawings as a War artist, nearly all my figural sculpture and drawings, since being a student, has been of the female. (Except for the Family Groups, but there the man was part of the group.) This sculpture is the first single and separate male figure that I have done in sculpture and carrying it out in its final large scale was almost like the discovery of a new subject matter; the boney, edgy, tense forms were a great excitement to make. Like the bronze Draped Reclining Figure of 1952-1953. I think The Warrior has some Greek influence, not consciously wished for, but perhaps the result of my visit to Athens and other parts of Greece in 1951."Moore has cast in bronze five impressions of Warrior with Shield. He has reserved the first for his personal collection and has stated that he will never part with it. The other four impressions cast have been sold to museums within a year of his completion of the project, a phenomenon which in itself may be unique in the history of sculpture. The impression acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is the first and only example of Warrior with Shield to come to the United States. The other impressions have been acquired by The Art Gallery of Toronto, Canada, the City Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham, England, and the Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim, Germany. Thus the Institute has not only acquired a major bur rare work in bronze by a leading contemporary sculptor. Warrior with Shield enhances the stature of Moore as well as the status of contemporary sculpture and enriches the Institute's growing collection.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Plaster stage of Warrior with Shield in Moore's studio, 1953. (Photograph by Henry Moore)
  2. Final stage, in bronze, of Warrior with Shield 1953-1954. (Photograph by Henry Moore)
  3. Detail of treatment of head of Warrior with Shield 1953-1954. (Photograph by Henry Moore)
  4. View of a back of Warrior with Shield 1953-1954. (Photograph by Henry Moore)
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Source: Richard S. Davis, "Institute Recieves Gift of Contemporary Sculpture Warrior with Shield by Henry Moore," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 44, no. 4 (July, 1955): 27-31.
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Added to Site: March 10, 2009