Two rare sculptures by Henry Moore go under the hammer this week in a battle of the busts at auction. Bonhams and Sotheby’s in London are both offering the small-scale early Moore works, which rarely surface on the market, with comparable estimates.
Head (1929), carved from a block of pure white alabaster, goes up for auction today (21 November) at Sotheby’s in London with an estimate of £2m-£3m. “These early carvings from Moore, we rarely see them in alabaster like this. These fully formed heads epitomise the beauty and truth to nature that Moore was working on at this time,” says André Zlattinger, Sotheby’s head of Modern British art, in an online film. “It’s really soft and delicately carved.”
He adds that he has only sold a handful of early sculptures by Moore, saying that they “just don’t come on the market”. The sculpture has a colourful back story. In the early 1930s, the artist Ben Nicholson exchanged a painting called Still Life with Playing Cards and Mugs with Moore who gave the Head sculpture in return. “It wasn’t about money; it was about both men admiring each other’s work,” Zlattinger adds.
A Sotheby’s statement says: “Nicholson was induced to sell the present lot while in need of funds in the early 1950s, leading to the acquisition of Head into the prestigious Thomas C. Adler collection where it has remained ever since.”
At Bonhams meanwhile, a female head carved in ironstone features in the Modern British art sale on 22 November. The seven-inch piece, Head (1930), has an estimate of £2.2m-£2.6m. Penny Day, head of UK and Ireland for Modern British and Irish Art, says in a statement: "This exquisite work exemplifies Moore's ability to surprise and demonstrates a masterly simplification and elegant line.”
The catalogue description of the piece outlines how Moore became enamoured with ironstone after finding pebbles made from the material on the beach in Norfolk. “I remember it was good weather,” Moore said, “and it was there that we found ironstone pebbles which are hard enough and also soft enough to carve. Some were already beautiful shapes.”
“It is their slim, rounded forms that determined the nature of the sculptures that he made from them,” the Bonhams catalogue notes. The ironstone head was acquired in 1995 from Berkeley Square Gallery in London by a UK private collection, which has consigned the piece to Bonhams.
Meanwhile, a drawing by Moore discovered in a charity shop will be offered in the British Sale at Forum Auctions in Battersea, London, on 14 December. The work, Four Studies for Seated Mother and Child and Mother and Child (on reverse), has an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.
The auction house says in a statement that “its current owner thought it was just a print—she bought it 20 years ago at a charity shop—but when it was brought into Forum Auctions and taken out of its frame Henry Moore’s signature was found and another drawing on the reverse”.
Alexander Hayter, international Head of Modern and contemporary Art at Forum Auctions, adds in a statement: “Unknown to art scholars, the Henry Moore Foundation conducted almost two years of research, and recently confirmed that the work is indeed by Britain’s greatest sculptor and has added it to their catalogue raisonné of his works on paper.”