19 September 2016

The Henry Moore at Gernika

Large Figure in a Shelter, 1986, Gernika, Spain
On 26 April 1937 the town of Guernica in the Basque country of Spain (Gernika in Basque) was subjected to aerial bombing by the German Luftwaffe with Italian air force support. Hitler and Mussolini’s forces undertook the operation on behalf of the nationalists under General Franco in the Spanish civil war (1936-39). Guernica was being used by Franco’s republican opponents as a communications centre near the front line. The destruction of the town with much loss of life was immortalised in one of the twentieth century’s most famous paintings, Picasso’s Guernica, now in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Henry Moore, like most of the British intelligentsia, was anti-fascist and a supporter of the republican cause:
Most artists were of the same mind about Spain – I remember that when Irina and I were in Paris in the summer of 1937 Picasso invited a whole lot of us to go along to his studio and see how ‘Guernica’ was getting on. (Reference below)

In 1939 Moore began the first of his Helmet works (The Helmet, 1939-40, above left) in which an outer figure contained an inner one. One development of this theme would be Figure in a Shelter (1983, at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, above right) and Large Figure in a Shelter of 1986, according to the Henry Moore Foundation:
… the last monumental work to be produced during his lifetime, scaled up to this immense size from the smaller version of 1983. Due to Moore's increasing illness, Bernard Meadows, who had become his first assistant in 1936 and later Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, was instrumental in seeing through the completion of the work - carried out by Moore's assistants. The initial cast was sited in woodland at Perry Green, and in 1990, negotiations with the Basque and Spanish governments by Sir Alan Bowness led to the second bronze being installed in what is now the Parque de los pueblos de Europa at Guernica. This was a fitting tribute by both artists to the memory of those who perished for the Republican cause, which they had strongly supported during the Spanish Civil War.
The Foundation’s description of the Perry Green cast adds:
Moore's continuing interest in the idea of an inner form protected by, but also contained within, an outer form is explored here with two monumental bronze forms that enclose the solitary figure of a third. Large Figure in a Shelter weighs over 21,000kg and was cast at the Morris Singer Foundry in Basingstoke. A second cast of this work stands in the Peace Park at Guernica in northern Spain. 
In accordance with his wishes, The Foundation ceased all casting when Moore died in 1986. Large Figure in a Shelter, however, was at the foundry at the time of his death. Under these unique circumstances, a clear protective lacquer was applied to the sculpture. With time and weather, the lacquer has degraded, leaving the base metal vulnerable to environmental damage. An ambitious project to restore the sculpture has now been completed. The restoration was led by James Copper who trained with Moore's own assistants for more than 12 years. In the course of the restoration, a rich gold-brown patina, in keeping with the majority of Moore's monumental bronzes, has been applied to the sculpture and polished with beeswax in order to allow the patina to develop naturally over time, in accordance with Moore's own approach.
This restoration was carried out in 2011 and was documented by Film Infinity:

However degraded the Perry Green version was prior to restoration, it is unlikely to have been in anything like such a poor state as the cast at Gernika is at present. As the photographs below (taken in August 2016) show, this is not only adorned with surface graffiti but has been subjected to deeper and more damaging vandalisation.

Many visitors to the Parque will conclude that it is beyond the capability of the local authorities in the town of Gernika-Lumo and the Biskaia province to look after this major work properly in its present location. April 2017 will be the 80th anniversary of the destruction of Guernica. It may also be an appropriate time to consider whether Moore’s work would be more appropriately sited and conserved elsewhere. An obvious location would be at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, less than 40km away, an institution which did not exist at the time of Moore’s death.


Henry Moore Writings and Conversations, ed Alan Wilkinson, University of California Press, 2002, page 166.

Previous posts here about Henry Moore:

Moore Rodin at Compton Verney
Bacon and Moore at the Ashmolean
The Arts Council’s Henry Moores in Bath
Henry Moore’s ‘Memorial Figure’ at Dartington Hall

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