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Henry Moore Helmet Head Exhibition at the Wallace Collection

Yesterday I treated myself to a trip to the Wallace Collection to see the Henry Moore Helmet Head exhibition.  Moore apparently went to the Wallace Collection to study and draw the helmets in the Collection’s armour exhibitions.  He worked on these ideas throughout his life.

I only like three elements of Moore’s work; his drawings of sheep, his king and queen sculptures and his helmet work.  So, I really did want to get to see this show.  It’s been on for a good three months and I finally got to see it yesterday, the day before it closes.  That is typical of me.

The exhibition was wonderful, and the catalogue is great.  The Wallace is a lovely place to visit, and have lunch.  And there is a tiny branch of my current favourite shoe shop just around the corner.  That’s all I need, really.

I don’t have photos of the heads themselves, and they are easy enough to find on-line, like this one:

 

I went to draw the heads.  I think you understand what you are looking at a lot more if you draw it as well as just look at it,  So what follows is some pages from my sketchbook.

But, you can’t really go to a good show without learning something.  So, what I learned was that for Moore:

  • the helmet was a protector and  an object of war and brutality.  It has elements of the victim and the perpetrator.
  • the helmet is akin to the skull – it protects the brain – although within that it seems that the brain, for Moore, was the protector of the mind.  The mind is the thing that most needs protection.  It is the most important thing – the human consciousness.
  • the helmet is vital to the aggressive warrior but also protects the terrified soldier.  There is the warlike and the anxious.
  • there is tremendous human tenderness, somehow, in his portrayal of the human ear.  I wondered how much you heard in those helmets, and whether they amplified the sounds of war.  It turns out, that they had an arming helmet underneath which deadened the sound, which was good, but also meant that you couldn’t hear orders.  Infantrymen had much more open helmets which meant that they could hear order.  The heavy cavalry wore these enclosed helmets and couldn’t so once they charged, that was it – they were out of control.
  • I didn’t know about his lithographs which were stunning and a real extra special gift at the end of the exhibition.  He talked about them as soldiers looking out over the battlements getting ready for battle.  Anxiety leeches out of them as you look at them.  They reminded me as well as Goya’s unbearable painting of the little dog in his horrors of war series.

 

I also learned that Moore can make a much more graceful line in bronze than I can make on paper.

I think this anxiety about a world in peril, and people needing protection is very relevant again.  Moore had been in the First World War and seen the horrors.  I have lived a life of it on television.  I felt this exhibition gave a real feel of what it is like to suffer from this inescapable anxiety and to live with the ghost of war throughout our lives.

On a lighter note.  I loved doing these drawings.  I was going to give them some watercolour washes on the train home, but it was packed so there wasn’t room.  I finished them off this morning instead with coloured pencils and some kids’ crayons.  I absolutely loved doing it.  I loved layering the colours.  The sketchbook is a small six inch square one which gives you some idea of the scale of the drawings.  The collage elements were good for finding the proportions of the heads, which were a lot squarer than I thought.  Anyway, here are the pages.

 

This was one of the first exhibits of a helmet which had inspired him.  This one is from antiquity, whereas most of them are medieval or renaissance.

 

One of the things I learned from drawing was that the insides were cast separately from the helmet form, which is probably obvious, but took me a while.

 

I don’t normally like the stringed elements in Moore and his contemporaries’ work,  but I felt it worked here with some sort of reference to arrows as well as helmets.  Also seen in this collage of mine:

 

I loved the ambiguity of the above which looked masculine until you saw it sideways on when it had a goddess’ hairdo.  Also, whoever invented the Cybermen onmust have seen these heads.

These terrified me more than the Daleks, which must tell me something.

 

I love the shadow helmet which has emerged as I worked on the previous page and transferred some of the pigment from the purple head.

The piece on the left was affecting because it had the war-like lobster plate armour on the right as we look at it but an embracing, enveloping arm on the other.  Again playing with the duality of war: aggression and protection.  The drawing on the right is my version of Moore’s drawing.  Really perfect for layered stitching.

Good example of how cutting a square or a rectangle of paper helps to get the proportions right in these collages.

My attempts to work out how he did it!

 

 

I may well do some more work on these lithographs as they are almost preparatory sketches for stitched panels.

 

In short, this was a great show, beautifully mounted, and thought-provoking.  It had a brooding quality, which I think is instructive and highly current.