Issue Number: 118
As the Henry Moore Foundation prepares to show Rodin alongside Moore, Richard Cork talks to Anthony Caro RA, Moore’s assistant in the 1950s, about these two iconic sculptors
Henry Moore in the Plastic Studio at Perry Green, 1964. Photo Frank Stanton/The Henry Moore Foundation Archive. The arrival of spring will be boosted by an ambitious, stimulating exhibition at Perry Green, Henry Moore’s former home in Hertfordshire. Here, inside the gallery and across 70 acres of gardens beyond, a major survey called ‘Moore Rodin’ opens in March. Important loans from the Rodin Museum in Paris, including Adam (1880-81) and the third maquette for The Gates of Hell (c.1881-82) will give visitors a unique opportunity to assess Rodin side by side with Moore. The show will undoubtedly help to explain why Moore once said ‘my admiration for Rodin has grown and grown.’
It began, as the exhibition’s curator Anita Feldman explains, when Moore was a young artist. ‘One of his very first sculptures was based on Rodin’s St John the Baptist. Around the same time, Moore read a collection of interviews with Rodin, and he was influenced by that a lot.’ Feldman also says Moore and Rodin shared an interest in Michelangelo: ‘They both made roughly hewn figures in marble which are reminiscent of rocky forms in the landscape, and then Moore’s figures almost become the landscape.’ Moore and Rodin liked drawing from life, and Feldman points out that ‘Moore’s studies of his daughter Mary go beyond portraiture to look at the human condition.’ Drawings by both artists are in the show. ‘They shared a fascination with looking at the body from more than one perspective. They also drew contorted figures affected by war, who seem to be coming out of the darkness.’
Feldman has invited Mary Moore to curate one section of the exhibition, where she has selected works from the substantial collections of artefacts and antiquities acquired by her father and by Rodin.
Rodin in his studio in Meudon, c.1881, with 'The Kiss'. Photo Musée Rodin, Paris. In the early 1950s, Anthony Caro worked for two years as Moore’s assistant and right from the outset of his career, Caro felt convinced about Rodin’s titanic stature. ‘When I was young, Rodin was absolutely a hero for me’, he recalls during a coffee break at his busy studio in Camden Town. Many decades have passed since Caro, 90 next year, initially encountered the French sculptor’s work. ‘The first book on sculpture I ever had was on Rodin, published by Phaidon. He’s a mighty figure. I would love to see the show at Perry Green.
‘Moore would talk about Rodin a lot,’ says Caro, adding, ‘Henry was right’ to regard The Burghers of Calais (1908) in Victoria Gardens outside the Houses of Parliament, as the greatest work of public sculpture in London.
Moore, who started acquiring an art collection in the 1960s, purchased a cast of Rodin’s radically fragmented Walking Man (1899), praising its ‘wonderful sense of the human figure’. Caro, likewise, owns a Rodin: ‘I’ve got a plaster cast of a Victor Hugo figure with a big paunch. There’s such energy in his work, and the Rodin Museum in Paris is a knockout. I once saw a staggering show there of Rodin’s drawings of dancers – marvellous!’
Caro harbours equally enthusiastic memories of visiting Meudon on the edge of Paris, where Rodin had a villa and studio. ‘He produced Victor Hugo there, and downstairs there’s a store with about 20 different heads of Clemenceau, who became France’s Prime Minister. I can still imagine Rodin at Meudon, working away and messing with things just like sculptors do.’
At Perry Green, in the early 1950s, the young Caro benefited from an extraordinary opportunity to experience, at first hand, how Moore worked. ‘When I went there, Henry was producing pieces like Falling Warrior and King and Queen. He was working in wax for bronze. The way he worked was a revelation. He often started his pieces in the little room at the end of the cowshed.’ Moore did not respond to the Cubist-based work of the American sculptors who would soon fire Caro’s imagination. ‘I remember looking at a book of sculpture with Henry,’ recalls Caro, ‘and we came to a David Smith, and Henry said: ‘That’s not sculpture!’
During the 1960s Caro established himself as a sculptor who was radically different from either Moore or Rodin. Yet he looks back with great affection at his time at Perry Green when he was Moore’s assistant. Caro has no hesitation in declaring that ‘Rodin is a great, great artist, and Moore is, too.’
‘We need more stuff like that to stimulate us,’ he continues. ‘I went yesterday to London Zoo, to draw. I drew some camels and giraffes. There are sculptures of animals in the zoo but they are static. When Rodin made sculpture, he gave it life.’