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Henry Moore’s Shelter-Sketch-Book

Until the Battle of Britian began in 1940, artist Henry Moore said that although he was worried about the war, it had not affected his work to any distinguishable degree. That all changed for him when, during one of the early air campaigns, Moore found himself in a London Underground station where he witnessed for the first time groups of people sheltering in the tunnels. Over the course of months, Moore was moved to make a series of sketches of what he saw undergound during the Blitz. At the urging of art critic Kenneth Clark, Moore became an Official War Artist. The original sketchbook, in pen and ink with pencil, crayon and watercolor additions, is considered to be Moore’s finest achievement as a draughtsman.

We are very pleased to be offering two copies of Henry Moore’s Shelter-Sketch-Book portfolio in our December 7 sale. One of the copies is accompanied by a document in the artist’s hand describing his thoughts about the shelters and the drawings he made as documentation. The portfolios were produced by Moore and the Marlborough Gallery in 1967 and contain collotype reproductions of eighty drawings Moore made between 1940 and 1941, along with an original lithograph in each of the 180 portfolios. Moore also produced a portfolio of seven color lithographs of shelter sketchbook subjects in an edition of 75, also published by Marlborough in 1967.

In his own words, Moore described the first time he saw the shelters:

“I had heard that many of the people of London were taking shelter each night in the Underground Stations, but it wasn’t until by accident, I travelled by tube myself, during one of the early air-raids, that I saw the actual underground shelter scenes—

It seemed to me something absolutely unique in history—I was deeply moved, but also fascinated to find families with their children + babies, making their homes crowded together in hundreds many sleeping in spite of the noise of trains running every three minutes.

For the whole length of the platform there were rows of reclining figures with their untidy rugs and blankets. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever felt. There was no outward expression of fear, or even excitement, but there was this strange dramatic tension in the air. I was very excited, + when I got back to my studio I began making drawings of some of the things I’d seen.

Moore’s Shelter-Sketch-Book drawings, and the subsequent prints made from them, are typical of the smooth, curved forms of his sculpture. Their central subject matter is the human form, hovering between abstraction and figuration, representing the isolation of their situation and their relationships to each other. The sketchbook is a moving and important document of British life during World War II and holds a special place in British art history of the 20th century.

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