Exhibitions

Blitz, bodies and the British landscape: Bill Brandt and Henry Moore’s intertwining careers explored in new show

The assistant curator Clare Nadal talks us through five key images from The Hepworth Wakefield’s exhibition

The photographer Bill Brandt and the artist Henry Moore first met in 1942 during a photoshoot for the now defunct Liliput magazine. Moore’s portrait was being taken by Brandt for a feature on both men’s work, which they had made of Londoners during the Blitz. A new exhibition opening this week has reunited the works of the Hamburg-born British photographer and the Yorkshire-born sculptor, showing how the careers of both men intertwined and overlapped. With more than 200 works, including sculptures, photographs, and drawings, the show highlights how both artists responded to shared interests, including poor mining communities in the north of England, geological features in the landscape and the sculptural qualities of the human figure. The exhibition is organised with the Yale Center for British Art and is accompanied by a new book published by Yale University Press. Below, the exhibition’s assistant curator Clare Nadal tells us the stories behind five works in the show.

Bill Brandt, Henry Moore, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, 7 February-31 May; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 25 June-13 September; Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, 22 November-28 February 2021

Bill Brandt’s Henry Moore (1942): “Bill Brandt’s portraits of Henry Moore span three decades, capturing the development of Moore’s practices and materials—from wartime master draughtsman, direct carver of figures from wood and stone, to post-war sculptor working in plaster and bronze—and were almost always commissions for magazine spreads. This is the first portrait Brandt made of Moore and marks the first time the two artists met. It was commissioned by Lilliput magazine, which was known at the time for its innovative photographic features, to accompany a spread juxtaposing Moore’s drawings and Brandt’s photographs of civilians sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz. The photograph depicts Moore sketching in his studio surrounded by his own complete and incomplete works, including on the far right the concrete Head of a Woman (1926) now in The Hepworth Wakefield’s art collection.”
Bill Brandt’s Henry Moore (1942). © Hyman Collection, London; Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

Bill Brandt’s Henry Moore (1942): “Bill Brandt’s portraits of Henry Moore span three decades, capturing the development of Moore’s practices and materials—from wartime master draughtsman, direct carver of figures from wood and stone, to post-war sculptor working in plaster and bronze—and were almost always commissions for magazine spreads. This is the first portrait Brandt made of Moore and marks the first time the two artists met. It was commissioned by Lilliput magazine, which was known at the time for its innovative photographic features, to accompany a spread juxtaposing Moore’s drawings and Brandt’s photographs of civilians sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz. The photograph depicts Moore sketching in his studio surrounded by his own complete and incomplete works, including on the far right the concrete Head of a Woman (1926) now in The Hepworth Wakefield’s art collection.”

Henry Moore’s pages from Coalmine Sketchbook (1942): “During the 1940s, coal (and the shortage of it) was one of the most pressing political issues, upon which the survival of Britain was seen to depend. Encouraged by the critic Herbert Read, Moore returned to his Yorkshire home of Castleford to capture the pit where his father had worked as a mining engineer. His dark drawings built up using layers of black crayon, black ink and black charcoal evoked the ‘thick choking dust and noise of the coal cutting machine’ in the ‘terrible man-made inferno’ that he experienced. He depicts the mine as a productive and operational work environment and the miners as heroes of the war, without any hint of the troubled state of the industry or allusion to the strikes and unrest. These contrast dramatically with Brandt’s prescient images from 1937 of the social deprivation of the coal mining communities in the north.”
Henry Moore’s pages from Coalmine Sketchbook (1942). © image The Henry Moore Foundation

Henry Moore’s pages from Coalmine Sketchbook (1942): “During the 1940s, coal (and the shortage of it) was one of the most pressing political issues, upon which the survival of Britain was seen to depend. Encouraged by the critic Herbert Read, Moore returned to his Yorkshire home of Castleford to capture the pit where his father had worked as a mining engineer. His dark drawings built up using layers of black crayon, black ink and black charcoal evoked the ‘thick choking dust and noise of the coal cutting machine’ in the ‘terrible man-made inferno’ that he experienced. He depicts the mine as a productive and operational work environment and the miners as heroes of the war, without any hint of the troubled state of the industry or allusion to the strikes and unrest. These contrast dramatically with Brandt’s prescient images from 1937 of the social deprivation of the coal mining communities in the north.”

Bill Brandt’s Stonehenge Under Snow (1947): “Both artists were drawn to creating images of prehistoric monuments, such as Stonehenge. This photograph became one of the most iconic images of the site, representing Britain’s longevity and resilience. It was taken when Britain was suffering its worst winter for a century, which brought the war-torn country to its knees. It was famously first printed on the cover of Picture Post in April 1947 with the title ‘Where Stands Britain?’. It was a ‘special issue on the crisis’ of power cuts and fuel shortages, snow drifts blocking roads and train lines, followed by devastating floods and stringent food rationing, all leading to political calamity. It was a time of intense national introspection in which the magazine asked where was ‘Britain’s place in the changed new world’. With the current rise in nationalism, these questions seem as pertinent today as they were 70 years ago.”
Bill Brandt’s Stonehenge Under Snow (1947). © Edwynn Houk Gallery; Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

Bill Brandt’s Stonehenge Under Snow (1947): “Both artists were drawn to creating images of prehistoric monuments, such as Stonehenge. This photograph became one of the most iconic images of the site, representing Britain’s longevity and resilience. It was taken when Britain was suffering its worst winter for a century, which brought the war-torn country to its knees. It was famously first printed on the cover of Picture Post in April 1947 with the title ‘Where Stands Britain?’. It was a ‘special issue on the crisis’ of power cuts and fuel shortages, snow drifts blocking roads and train lines, followed by devastating floods and stringent food rationing, all leading to political calamity. It was a time of intense national introspection in which the magazine asked where was ‘Britain’s place in the changed new world’. With the current rise in nationalism, these questions seem as pertinent today as they were 70 years ago.”

Henry Moore’s Stonehenge IV (1973): “Moore first visited Stonehenge in 1921 and later claimed to have returned 20 to 30 times and described the ‘immense power’ of a large rough-shaped rock or stone. He often drew reclining sculptural figures into imagined landscapes envisioning sculpture’s ancient relationship with the land long before he was able to physically realise monumental works outdoors. This seems to allude to a deep interconnection between his sculpture and the land. He published his lithographic Stonehenge Album in 1973. Wakefield Art Gallery (the precursor to The Hepworth Wakefield) had long supported Moore’s career and began a fundraising campaign to buy one of the prints. Upon hearing this, Moore donated a full set of the Stonehenge lithographs.”
Henry Moore’s Stonehenge IV (1973). © Wakefield Permanent Art Collection; The Henry Moore Foundation

Henry Moore’s Stonehenge IV (1973): “Moore first visited Stonehenge in 1921 and later claimed to have returned 20 to 30 times and described the ‘immense power’ of a large rough-shaped rock or stone. He often drew reclining sculptural figures into imagined landscapes envisioning sculpture’s ancient relationship with the land long before he was able to physically realise monumental works outdoors. This seems to allude to a deep interconnection between his sculpture and the land. He published his lithographic Stonehenge Album in 1973. Wakefield Art Gallery (the precursor to The Hepworth Wakefield) had long supported Moore’s career and began a fundraising campaign to buy one of the prints. Upon hearing this, Moore donated a full set of the Stonehenge lithographs.”

Bill Brandt’s East Sussex (1964): “After the war, Brandt embarked on a major series of photographs of female bodies on the beaches of East Sussex and Normandy, transforming the human form into almost unrecognisable body parts that look more sculptural than human. There is a deliberate interplay between figure and ground, knuckles and pebbles, knees with boulders. In logical progression, Brandt started photographing found geological forms as the main subject of the works. This series of transparencies is significant for being a rare foray into colour for the artist. The works depict small organic objects as if monumental sculptures in the landscape, with shapes strongly reminiscent of Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculptural forms. Henry Moore described his own work as ‘a mixture of rock form and mountains combined with the human figure’ and had a collection of found objects including bones, fossils, flints, shells and driftwood which he used as a source of inspiration and he referred to as ‘nature’s sculpture’.”
Bill Brandt’s East Sussex (1964). © Bill Brandt/ Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

Bill Brandt’s East Sussex (1964): “After the war, Brandt embarked on a major series of photographs of female bodies on the beaches of East Sussex and Normandy, transforming the human form into almost unrecognisable body parts that look more sculptural than human. There is a deliberate interplay between figure and ground, knuckles and pebbles, knees with boulders. In logical progression, Brandt started photographing found geological forms as the main subject of the works. This series of transparencies is significant for being a rare foray into colour for the artist. The works depict small organic objects as if monumental sculptures in the landscape, with shapes strongly reminiscent of Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculptural forms. Henry Moore described his own work as ‘a mixture of rock form and mountains combined with the human figure’ and had a collection of found objects including bones, fossils, flints, shells and driftwood which he used as a source of inspiration and he referred to as ‘nature’s sculpture’.”