Small is Beautiful; The Art of Sculpture includes five works from the Collection of the Family of Harry A. Brooks. Brooks, a close friend of Henry Moore, had a long and
distinguished career in the New York art world. Having served in the US
Army during the Second World War, when he was awarded the Bronze Star
and Army Commendation Ribbon, Brooks embarked upon his career as an art
dealer, joining E. Coe Kerr Gallery in New York, before moving to
Knoedler & Co., where he worked for 21 years. In 1968 Brooks joined
Wildenstein & Co. as Vice President and later President, before
retiring in 1990. A graduate from Princeton University, he served on the Board of
Directors at the University's Art Museum, as well as at the Nassau County Museum
of Art in Roslyn, NY. Brooks passed away on 2 June 2000, aged 87.
The unique work Small Helmet Head, 1950, is one of the finest examples of Henry Moore’s helmet head series. This was one of Moore's most potent symbols; a motif the artist developed in the late 1930s and continued to use throughout his lifetime, revisiting it again in 1950 with Small Helmet Head. Inspired by the New Ireland Malanggan figures and Dogon Mother Masks he saw as a young man and an image of two prehistoric Greek utensils he came across in the 1934 Cahiers d’art, Moore began to experiment with the relationship between internal and external forms; a dialogue he would continue to explore throughout his lifetime. First depicted in a sketchbook page of 1939 entitled Two Heads: Drawing for Metal Sculpture; where two entrapped metal heads are seen floating in a gloomy half-light, Moore soon began to develop his ideas, abstracting shapes, testing and manipulating the elasticity of form to create new and original works.
This practice of abstraction is evident in the present work; the organic curved, hollowed form reveals the hidden interior figure, seen poking out from underneath the hood-like shape, its half-seen outline encouraging an air of intrigue, willing closer inspection. The green earthy patina tone brings harmony to the work, marrying the seemingly two separate internal and external entities, while the ‘eye’ seems to relate to his wartime coal miners and to Greek mythology. Susan Compton reiterates, ‘In his War drawings of coal-miners, Moore had depicted the light strapped to their heads to probe a way through the dark tunnels. The analogy with the eye of a Cyclops is equally appropriate here, for those legendary giants, equipped with a single eye, were the companions of Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of beneficial metal-working, whose foundry glowed with the fire from his furnaces. Moore made unique bronze casts like this one in his own small foundry in his garden; the connection with Greek mythology is not unlikely as he was working on his Prometheus lithographs at the time’ (S. Compton (ed.), Henry Moore, London, Royal Academy, 1988, p. 226).
Although abstract in form Small Helmet Head does not lose its humanistic quality, a practice Moore saw as paramount to design, citing the ‘psychological human element’ as essential in all his work. Moore believed that good sculpture was about opening one’s eyes to the outside world, not shutting them off from reality. One of Moore’s most valuable strengths was his ability to present universal symbols, such as the helmet head or the mother and child, which could be understood internationally but in turn would resonate on a personal level. The helmet is one of the most effective and powerful of Moore’s motifs. Introduced into the artist’s repertoire shortly after the First World War, the aesthetic of the helmet would have been a potent sign, one extricable with the horrors of warfare. Moving away from depicting the sufferings of the collective, portrayed huddled together in the London underground tunnels, Moore sought to capture the individual and the menace imposed on them by war.
Using the symbol of the helmet Moore explored the associations of external threat to the individual, creating a series of claustrophobic constrictions and manipulations in bronze, which violently reshapes the space of the figure, entrapping them within an outer shell. This practice of Moore’s conveyed the threat people felt by the developments in technology and machinery, in an age where weaponry was at the forefront of technological development. Capturing the notions of external danger, entrapment and hostility, whilst also exploring the ideas of defence, protection and security these advances offered, Moore offers a valuable insight into the political and social attitudes of the day. German critics viewing Helmet Head No. 1, at Moore’s 1950 exhibition in Hamburg, saw the artist’s work as a commentary against the new mechanical world, with paper Die Welt writing that his work represented ‘all of us in our Western impotence against mass and the machine.’ Small Helmet Head continues to reference the First and Second World War, the enclosed mask-like form of the piece can be seen to resemble a gas mask, or by some an atom bomb, a subject he would continue to explore in his later piece Nuclear Energy, executed four years later in 1967.
The 1950s was a period of great acclamation for the artist, which saw his growing reputation both at home and abroad, driven by the success of his one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946 and his award of the international sculpture prize at the Venice Biennale in 1948. During this time Moore held two retrospective exhibitions, first at the Tate Gallery in 1951 and later at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1961. He also received a series of important commissions, such as a large reclining figure for the Festival of Britain in 1951 by the Arts Council, a vast carving for the UNESCO building in 1958 and the bronze relief Time-life for the adornment of a roof terrace on Bond Street.
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