THEY were born within a very few years of each other.
The first, Leon Underwood, in Shepherd's Bush, London, at the
end of 1890.
The second, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, just outside Orleans, France,
The third, Henry Moore, in the Yorkshire town of Castleford,
Their careers could scarcely have taken more different routes.
Yet all three were sculptors who worked in England, and who made
outstanding contributions to what amounts to an English naissance
(rather than a renaissance) in sculpture in the 20th century. They
had this in common: a determination to instill sculpture with a
vitality and power based on primitivism; a recognition that
sculpture had in the previous centuries been increasingly stifled
and emasculated by its academic devotion to the Hellenistic ideal.
When Moore talked of the need to take Greek spectacles from the
eyes of modern sculptors, he was far from being a lone voice. He
was part of a change, but not a full-scale movement. Nevertheless,
what Gaudier, Underwood, and Moore had in common did not mean that
the way in which they made their separate marks on "the story of
art" wasn't as individual as it could be.
There has been no doubt in the art world's mind which sculptor
is the "greatest." Henry Moore's sculpture, produced in an
unstoppable stream of creativity, has encircled the globe from
Italy to Mexico, from New York to Athens, from Tokyo back to
Yorkshire - commissioned, exhibited, admired, written about. His
was an astonishing career of persistent imaginativeness and
ambition, his art full of complex challenges to convention, his
imagination as strange, disturbing, and experimental as his
personal demeanor was matter-of-fact and uncomplicated.
In his early days, Moore's work had prompted outrage from the
art establishment and simple incomprehension and ridicule from the
man in the street. Later he was thought of as "great."
He made no concessions to popular taste. Even if some of his
works are more sympathetic than others - those for instance on such
accessibly identifiable themes as mother and child or strong
landscape forms - there is often a tension between the tender and
the aggressive, between the animal and the human in his works,
which seems to have no connection at all with the ordinary
Yorkshire chap who conceived it.
But if Moore is set in context as a 20th-century artist - set
for example against Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, or Salvador Dali on
the one hand, or such pure Abstractionists as Piet Mondrian or Naum
Gabo on the other - he can be seen as an integrator rather than an
instigator. Synthesis looks to be his achievement - the ability to
bring into one work disparate elements so that they balance rather
And if Moore is compared with Gaudier-Brzeska and Underwood, who
by his own admission as well as by the evidence of actual
sculptures had an effect on his primary development in the 1920s,
then it is possible to define with more sensitivity the character
and historical place of Moore's art.
The art world sees both the artists as lesser figures - Gaudier
because of his career, which had the energy of a box of fireworks,
was startlingly brief. He was killed in battle, in the French
lines, in 1915. It has been pointed out that if Moore had lost his
life at the age Gaudier did, there would have been virtually no
work to hint what he might have become. Gaudier's energy was not
just prodigious, it was the very essence of his art. The cut-short
promise of his oeuvre - which consists of a comparatively few
sculptures and a host of drawings - is particularly tantalizing.
His art was an extraordinary mixture of mature certainty and
Gaudier threw himself vigorously into an espousal of the
"Vorticist" campaign for modernism, recognizing the machine is a
symbol of the new century. This meant a dichotomy in his work: on
one side a fluent naturalism, on the other a cubistic geometry of