Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986) Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high (Carved in 1929)

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Lot 49AR
Henry Moore O.M., C.H.
(British, 1898-1986)
Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high

Sold for £ 3,248,750 (US$ 4,467,570) inc. premium
Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986)
19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high
Carved in 1929


  • Provenance
    Felix & Rosemary Salmon by circa 1945, thence by family descent
    Private Collection

    London, The Leicester Galleries, Exhibition of Drawings & Sculpture by Henry Moore, April 1931
    Leeds, Leeds City Art Galleries, on long term loan, 1994-2018

    Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore: Volume 1, Complete Sculpture 1921-1948, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, Much Hadham & London, 1988, p.5, cat.no.74

    Please note that of the twelve masks carved by Henry Moore, 1924-1930, other examples are held by Tate, The Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds City Art Gallery and The Sainsbury Collection (Norwich). Only four remain in private hands, with another listed as 'whereabouts unknown'.

    Masks, the 'fundamental obsession' of 1929
    by Alan Wilkinson

    'Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
    Masks for faces and for noses;'

    (Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale)

    The first sculptures which Henry Moore saw and admired as a young lad were the massive, eight, mid-fourteenth century stone corbels representing grotesque human heads and animals supporting the roof on the exterior of St Oswald's Church, Methley, a mile and a half west of Castleford, Yorkshire where he was born, and the two recumbent alabaster effigy figures of Lord and Lady Welles within. Of the latter, one of several features which particularly impressed him was '.... the simplicity of the woman's head.'1.

    During Moore's long and prolific career, the mother and child theme, closely followed by the reclining figure motif, were his two fundamental obsessions, which he identified in 1943 2., naming a third, interior-exterior forms, in 1979, and adding that 'Some sculptures may combine two or even all three of these themes.'3. Strangely, he does not appear to have ever mentioned the two closely related subjects which in my opinion must surely follow the mother and child and the reclining figure as the next most important motif in Moore's entire oeuvre; heads and masks, with heads of animals and reptiles representing an intermittent preoccupation. During the 1920s, the first decade of Moore's career, I have no hesitation in nominating heads and masks as the 'fundamental obsession', the sculptor's term he used to describe his reclining figure and mother and child fixations.

    At the outset, it is worth remembering that masks and heads are partial figures, of which the best-known examples in modern sculpture are Rodin's countless studies of heads, masks, and fragments of the human body: torsos, hands, arms, legs and feet. Indeed, Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose, 1863-64 (Fig.1) was his first relevant sculpture. As Albert E. Elsen perceptively pointed out, 'Rodin often defended his partial figures by pointing out that neither the public nor the critics took offence at the sculptured bust, which was in truth a fragment.' 4.

    The Felix and Rosemary Salmon alabaster Mask, 1929 was included in Moore's second one-man exhibition in 1931, and his first at The Leicester Galleries, London, with 34 sculptures and 19 drawings. Whereas there were readily identifiable preparatory drawings for many (or should I say almost all?) of Moore's sculptures from the early 1920s to the late 1950s, there is no definitive sketch for Mask. Of the four related sheets of studies of heads and masks of 1929, Drawing for Mask Carving, 1929, (HMF 744) (Fig.2) is the most relevant, with the single ear of the large mask just right of centre, and the interesting inscriptions relevant to Moore's masks of 1929: 'start with just/a shape'; 'mouth open/holes for features'.

    It is useful to be reminded, in view of some of the damning reviews of Moore's 1931 London exhibition, that today many art historians and collectors consider the stone and wood carvings of the 1920s and 30s to be among Moore's supreme achievements - all of which have for me that vital, indeed magical ingredient, that each sculpture is obviously unique. Among the largely hostile reviews which greeted the 1931 Leicester Galleries exhibition, the critic in The Star, 13th April, 1931, wrote: 'Some of the masks suggest November the Fifth.', a reference to the grotesque masks worn by the effigies on Guy Fawkes night, while the damning, malicious, reviewer in The Scotsman, of the same date, raged: 'Indeed the modern movement has produced no more repulsive works than these heads, recumbent figures and mothers with children...'. It is the same old story of the public's, and all but a few enlightened critics', shock, hostility and indeed incomprehension of the new, of the sort which greeted the first Impressionist's exhibition in 1863, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, in 1955 (the first English production) and Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party in 1958. However, it should be noted that some of the reviews of Moore's 1931 exhibition were indeed very positive, none more so than Jacob Epstein's memorable, prophetic foreword to the very modest 1931 Leicester Galleries catalogue: 'Before these works I ponder in silence.... For the future of sculpture in England, Henry Moore is vitally important."

    Of the ninety-seven sculptures executed between 1920 and 1929, masks and human, animal and reptile heads were the subjects of thirty-nine of them. Indeed, the three earliest recorded works are heads: the sycamore wood Head, c.1920 (LH Od), the naturalistic clay Portrait Bust, 1921 (LH 1, destroyed) and the boxwood Small Animal Head, 1921 (LH 1a). Of the thirty-nine 1920s sculptures, twelve were masks, of which the earliest was the Verdi de Prato Mask, 1924 (LH21), which Moore described as '...definitely of Mexican influence, after seeing and admiring Mexican masks in the British Museum.' 5. I would add that the Gauguinesque, painted slate Relief Head, 1923 (LH 9), which Moore admitted was strongly influenced by Gauguin, has strikingly shallow, mask-like features, and should surely have been called Relief Mask.

    Few artists have been as helpful and thorough as Moore in explaining not only many individual sculptures, but also 'My ideas, inspiration, and life as an artist', the sub-title of the book Henry Moore, with photographer John Hedgecoe, published in 1986, the year of the sculptor's death.

    'Masks isolate the facial expression, enabling you to concentrate on the face alone. They have, of course, been used throughout history, particularly as theatrical devices. Although the back of the head can be as beautiful and interesting to a sculptor, it can't be as expressive, in the ordinary sense of the word.' 6.

    I designate 1929 'the year of the mask', which counted for six of the seventeen sculptures. Although there is no reference in Moore's writings to the Salmon alabaster Mask, 1929, his comments on the stone Mask of 1929 (LH 61, Fig.3) are relevant, both in the revealing formal analysis, particularly the emphasis on asymmetry, and in the association with Pre-Columbian masks:

    'In this mask I wanted to give the eyes tremendous penetration and to make them stare, because it is the eyes which most easily express human emotion. In other masks, I used the asymmetrical principle in which one eye is quite different from the other, and the mouth is at an angle bringing back the balance. I had noticed this in some of the Mexican masks, and I began to find it in reality in all faces.' 7.

    During the 1920s and 1930s, I would suggest that the most important tenet of Moore's sculpture was his almost sacred belief, shared by Barbara Hepworth, in the doctrine of 'truth to materials', direct carving in stone and wood. This was the antithesis of Rodin's practice of modelling a work in clay or plaster, to be cast in a bronze edition. The most obvious precedents of direct carving were the wood and stone sculptures of Gauguin, Brancusi, Epstein, Picasso (in 1907), Modigliani, Gaudier-Brzeska and Giacometti, of whom, in my opinion, Brancusi, Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska had the greatest impact on Moore's carvings of the 1920s. As the artist himself acknowledged, 'This is the tenet that I took over from sculptors like Brancusi and Modigliani." 8. In 'A View of Sculpture', 1930, his first published article, Moore declared that the modern sculptor recognises '...the importance of the materials in which he works, to think and create in his material by carving direct, understanding and being in sympathy with his materials so that he does not force it beyond its natural constructive build, producing weakness; to know that sculpture in stone should look honestly like stone [my emphasis] that to make it look like flesh and blood, hair and dimples is coming down to the level of a stage conjurer.' 9.

    Asymmetry, a feature of the contrasting sides of the Salmon Mask, 1929, was perhaps the second most influential of Moore's articles of faith, which remained steadfastly with him throughout his career. In his hand-written notes for 'A View of Sculpture' 1930, he declared rather forcefully, 'Perfect symmetry is death." In looking at Mask, it is worth remembering Moore's comment, something that had never occurred to me, that 'Nature may appear symmetrical, but it never is. Everybody's face, for instance, is asymmetrical. If you took the two halves of a person's face and reversed them, you'd get a different person.' 10. This is particularly well illustrated by the very subtle differences between the levels of the planes of the face on each side of the nose, and also that the left eye projects further forward than the right one. Obviously, the most apparent asymmetrical feature of Mask is the contrast between the lack of a right ear, and the quite massive protuberance of the left one, which may well derive from Aztec sculpture, such as the very large, ornamental ears of the Aztec stone figure, c. AD 1400-1500, (Fig.4) (probably representing the death god Mictlantecuhtli, which is illustrated on two pages in Henry Moore at the British Museum (1981). The small, circular hole in the ear form of Mask may be an echo, or perhaps it is merely an affinity, of the much larger holes pieced through the ear lobes in another very well-known sculpture in the British Museum, the Aztec stone mask of the God Xipe Totec, c. AD 1400-1500 which is also illustrated in the same book. Describing this sculpture, Moore remarked revealingly of the holes in his own work, made '...to make a formal contrast to the solid part of the sculpture; the shape held inside should be appreciated as a shape in itself.' [My emphasis] 11.

    A second and very obvious source for the large, stylised left ear of the Salmon Mask are the vertical projections on each side of the heads in Toltec-Maya Chacmool reclining figures. An adaptation of this striking, anatomical detail, first appeared as the rounded, thick projection of the left ear (as in Mask the only one) in the 1929 brown Hornton stone Reclining Figure, (LH 59) the earliest of many sculptures to reflect the overwhelming influence of the Pre-Columbian sculpture, which was, in my opinion, the seminal influence of Moore's entire career. It is almost certain that Moore's initial contact with a Chacmool sculpture occurred on a visit to Paris at Whitsun 1922 with Barbara Hepworth, Raymond Coxon and Edna Ginese. He remembered seeing a plaster cast in the ethnographic museum at the Palais du Trocadéro. In 'Notebook No.2', 1921-22, Studies for Sculpture (HMF 66] includes two thumb nail sketches of reclining figures on pedestals, both of which unquestionably echo the pose of the Chacmool. This initial contact lay dormant for seven years, until it suddenly erupted in Reclining Figure, 1929. It was to have the same profound influence on Moore's art as Picasso's revelation on seeing African and Oceanic masks on a visit to the Trocadéro in May or June of 1907, which lead to the almost immediate repainting in July 1907, under the influence of African sculpture, of the heads of the two right-hand figures of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. When Moore metamorphosed in his carvings of the 1920s Pre-Columbian masks and the Chacmool, what impressed the artist were their purely formal, sculptural qualities, as he knew nothing or very little, of their meaning, function, ceremonial or religious purposes.

    Whereas many African and Oceanic tribal masks, most of which were carved in wood, destined to be worn in ceremonial and religious festival, have, by necessity, completely hollowed out spaces in front of each eye, in only one of Moore's nine masks of the 1920s (five in stone, three in cast concrete and one rock salt) are the eyes represented by holes penetrating right through the material. Their solid eyes are in keeping with those of many Pre-Columbian masks.

    Of the dominant facial features of the Salmon Mask – the eyes, the nose seamlessly emerging beneath the pronounced, forward thrust of the forehead, and the mouth – the eyes are the most striking and most haunting. While the straight, elongated line of the nose is distinctly reminiscent of Modigliani's limestone Head, 1911-12 (Tate, formerly Victoria and Albert Museum, London), the circular, featureless eyes could well derive from, and if not, they do have a remarkable affinity with the raised oval eyes of Brancusi's marble Three Penguins, 1914 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Perhaps a more likely source is the lone, circular eye in low relief, with the tiny hole representing the pupil, of Giacometti's marble Woman (Femme), 1928, (The Alberto Giacometti Foundation) (Fig.5). In the Salmon Mask, the smoothly rounded, projecting, featureless eyes, which are quite obviously the antithesis of the hollowed out, staring eyes in Moore's Mask of the same year (Fig.3) are very closely related to the eyes of the 1924 Mask discussed above, the first of the six of the 1920s. The irregular patches of mottling on the face produce a skin-like effect on the smooth, polished surface of the alabaster. I am reminded of Othello's words in Act V, Scene II as he watches over Desdemona asleep in bed:

    'Yet I'll not shed her blood,
    Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
    And smooth as monumental alabaster.'

    Mask is the most human, the most peaceful and serene of the twelve motifs of the 1920s. While its gender is not perhaps immediately obvious, what I find unmistakable is the mood of thoughtful, reflective, and meditative calm.


    1. Henry Spencer Moore, photographed and edited by John Hedgecoe, words by Henry Moore, London, 1968, p.25.
    2. Alan Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2002, p.267.
    3. Ibid., p.212
    4. Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1963, p.174.
    5. Hedgecoe/Moore, p.56.
    6. Ibid., p.56.
    7. Ibid.
    8. Wilkinson, p.201
    9. Ibid., p. 187.
    10. Ibid., p. 219.
    11. Henry Moore, Henry Moore at the British Museum, Photographs by David Finn, London, British Museum Publications Ltd., p.74.


    My thanks to Matthew Bradbury of Bonhams, Director, U.K Board, Modern British & Irish Art, for inviting me to write this article. Martin Davis and Sophie Orpen of the Henry Moore Foundation, with their unrivalled, encyclopaedic knowledge of Henry Moore's life and work and of all things Moore-ish, have been most patient and extraordinarily helpful in answering endless tedious questions, and for proof reading my article and correcting many errors which I would have missed. Dr Sophie Bowness provided the link with Barbara Hepworth, to be able to establish that Henry Moore's first visited Paris in 1922, not in 1923. My thanks to Heidi Langley-Smith for her astute proof reading.

Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986) Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high (Carved in 1929)
Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986) Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high (Carved in 1929)
Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986) Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high (Carved in 1929)
Henry Moore O.M., C.H. (British, 1898-1986) Mask 19.2 cm. (7 1/2 in.) high (Carved in 1929)
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