In the Backyard at Burcroft: Henry Moore's Experiments in Lead

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In 1935 Moore and his wife Irina moved from Jasmine Cottage, Barfreston, to a bungalow, west of Marley and close to Kingston. Burcroft, as it was known, came with five acres of land, and with the establishment of a makeshift studio workshop, Moore began to work with the ductile and malleable properties of lead. Between 1938 and 1939 Moore (and Bernard Meadows, then assistant) used lead as part of the lost wax casting process and produced between eighteen to twenty small figurines. This chapter addresses the use of lead in this early work: through the early Reclining Figures of 1938-1939, Three Points (1939-1940) and the later Helmet Head series, first completed in January 1940. There are records of earlier lead pieces, which include Mask (1929) and Seated Figure (1930), the latter of which has since been destroyed. These sculptures will be examined in and through core European avant-garde influences of the time.

Lead carries a language that is both malleable and toxic. As a material it releases noxious gases into the atmosphere and incorporated by the body causes physiological, neurological and psychological symptoms. Within this chapter, lead will be considered as a sub-textual reference point located in some of the new and emerging aesthetic ideas and forms of the inter-war period. Lead also represents the shadow of war and the great feeling of uncertainty within émigré culture in Britain at the time. For example, analyses of The Artists International (AI) first exhibition of 1934, its subsequent renaming as the AIA (Artists International Association) with the Artists against Fascism and War exhibition of 1935, Abstract and Concrete, Oxford and London (1934 and 1935) and The International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries of 1936, provide opportunities for re-reading and re-situating Moore’s lead figurines in an aesthetically and politically orientated context.

The chapter considers how the inter-war period in Britain was an important creative context out of which new forms of sculptural practice have thrived. It is through a network of exchanges across exhibitions that certain aesthetic sensibilities re-activated a desire to experiment with the tools and resources of material processes and fabrication.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLead in Modern and Contemporary Art
EditorsSharon Hecker, Silvia Bottinelli
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781350196469
ISBN (Print)9781350196445
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2021


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