The converging art careers of Henry Moore and Bill Brandt


A new exhibition and book explore the intersecting careers of two renowned British artists of the 20th Century: sculptor Henry Moore and photographer Bill Brandt.

A photograph and a drawing of people sleeping in underground Blitz shelters

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Bill Brandt / Henry Moore

The two artists, born ten years apart, were commissioned by the UK government in the 1930s; Brandt as a photojournalist, and Moore as a war artist.

They both created images of civilians sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground during World War Two, seen above.

A portrait of

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Bill Brandt

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A portrait of Henry Moore, 1948, by Bill Brandt (left), and a self-portrait by Bill Brandt, 1966 (right).

The new exhibition – at The Hepworth Wakefield – explores how the two artists responded to the British landscape and its communities.

The exhibition brings together more than 200 works, including well-known sculptures and photographs, along with drawings, unprinted negatives and photo collages.

“Both artists had a fascination and poetic sensibility for capturing the spirit of place,” said Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield.

“It is particularly poignant to be presenting this exhibition in West Yorkshire, where Henry Moore was born and grew up.”

Brandt and Moore met in 1942, when Brandt was commissioned to take a portrait of Moore in his studio for a 10-page spread on the artist in Lilliput magazine. The feature juxtaposed the two artists’ images of the Blitz shelters.

A photograph of people sleeping in an underground Blitz shelter

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Bill Brandt

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Liverpool Street Extension, by Bill Brandt, 1940.

Presentational white space

A drawing of people sleeping in an underground Blitz shelter

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Henry Moore

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Sleeping Shelterers: Two Women and a Child, by Henry Moore, 1940.

“Both artists developed a strikingly similar visual vocabulary of displacement, isolation, threat, and vulnerability that presages images of larger-scale terror made later in the war,” writes Courtney J Martin, the director of Yale Center for British Art, in a foreword to the book Bill Brandt | Henry Moore.

Throughout their careers, they crossed over into each other’s predominant creative medium. Moore used photography to present his work, and Brandt looked to sculpture as a way of considering nature, landscape and the human body.

A contact sheet of photographs of a sculptor of a torso

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Henry Moore

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Contact sheet for details of Auguste Rodin’s Walking Man, 1877-78, photographed by Henry Moore, 1967.

In their early work, Brandt and Moore were drawn to documenting ordinary people, labour and the home.

Brandt highlighted social deprivation in 1930s Depression-era Britain, with his evocative photographs of impoverished mining communities and families in the North of England.

A photograph of a woman helping a man bathe in a tin bath

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Bill Brandt

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Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham, by Bill Brandt, 1937.

Presentational white space

A photograph of a street

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Bill Brandt

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Coal-Miners’ Houses without Windows to the Street, Bill Brandt, 1937.

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A photograph of a miner eating a meal at a dinner table as a woman looks on

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Bill Brandt

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Northumbrian Miner at his Evening Meal, by Bill Brandt, 1937.

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A photograph of cottages with a the hills of a coal mine in the background

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Bill Brandt

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Slag-Heap and Miners’ Cottages, Shotton, near Boldon Colliery, East Durham, by Bill Brandt, 1937.

Moore was one of eight children in a mining family in Castleford, a colliery town in Yorkshire, a place he would later sketch to document the war effort.

A frequent subject for Moore was the depiction of family groups in both sculpture and drawings, a theme that started with his early drawings of families in shelters during the Blitz.

In the 1950s, Moore made a series of works which used groupings of figures, reminiscent of his shelter drawings.

A series of sketches of family figures in a group

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Henry Moore

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Six Studies for Family Groups, by Henry Moore, 1948.

Presentational white space

A sketch of figures of a family

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Henry Moore

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Family Group, by Henry Moore, 1944.

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A sketch of a sculptor of a reclining figure

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Henry Moore

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Sculpture and Red Rocks, Henry Moore, 1942.

After the urban subjects which Brandt and Moore portrayed during the war, the artists later turned to nature for sources of inspiration.

They were interested in rock formations, geological artefacts and megalithic sites like Stonehenge and Avebury.

Indeed, Moore let it be known that he sculpted with stone quarried in Britain.

A photograph of a rock at Avebury

Image copyright
Bill Brandt

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Avebury, by Bill Brandt, 1963.

The exhibition Bill Brandt | Henry Moore is at The Hepworth Wakefield until 31 May. The accompanying book is published by Yale University Press.



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