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Henry Moore at Houghton Hall

Houghton Hall is a country house in the English county of Norfolk. From the May 1st to September 29th, 2019, the house and its grounds hosted a special exhibition entitled Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration. The photographs on this webpage were taken during a visit to see the special exhibition which (as the name suggests) featured some of the works by famous English sculptor Henry Moore, the house itself and its magnificent gardens. The gardens also contain a number of permanent art installations. Some text about Henry Moore and the exhibition are accompanied by photographs below, and this is followed by a brief description and a thumbnail photo gallery of the hall and its gardens.

Above: Large Reclining Figure. 1984 Fibreglass. Artwork: 340 × 900 × 310 cm The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1987.

Henry Moore and the Exhibition

Henry Spencer Moore is one of the most significant British artists of the twentieth century and internationally renowned as a sculptor. He was born on 30th July 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire, and was the son of a miner and the seventh of eight children. During his childhood, Moore showed a talent for art, but was encouraged to train as a teacher first, something he did not enjoy. He then signed up to the army and served in the First World War, but was injured during the Battle of Cambrai. An ex-serviceman's grant enabled him to enrol as a student at Leeds School of Art in 1919 and he then continued his studies at the Royal College of Art in London from 1921. Moore’s early work was heavily influenced by pre-Columbian art, but by 1928, his style had become more personal and has gained a reputation not only at home, but abroad. In July 1929, he married Irina Radetsky, a painting student at the Royal College who was born in Kiev to Ukrainian–Polish parents. Shortly after marrying, they moved to a studio in Hampstead.

Moore’s sculpture often incorporated hollows to which he gives as meaningful a shape as solid mass. There are also analogies in many of his figures to landscape forms, such as hillsides and caverns. During the Second World War, he was commissioned by the British government to do his famous drawings of people in the London Underground shelters. In September 1940, the Hampstead home was hit by bomb shrapnel; Moore and Irina then moved out of London to live in a farmhouse near Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. This was to become Moore's home and workshop for the rest of his life. Themes central to much of his work are the mother and child and the reclining figure. As well as sculpture and drawing, Moore was known for graphics and textiles. Moore died on 31st August 1986, at the age of 88. For a more detailed biography and chronology of Henry Moore’s life and works, the relevant Wikipedia Page may be found on the link Here.

Above: Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae. 1968-69. Bronze. 710 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1989.

The Henry Moore at Houghton Hall: Nature and Inspiration exhibition was created in collaboration with the Henry Moore Foundation (Link Here) and represented the first significant show of the artist’s work for many years. The show, curated by the Henry Moore Foundation’s Head of Collections & Exhibitions, Sebastiano Barassi, featured several monumental outdoor pieces, tastefully set in the grounds of the hall, as well as a selection of smaller works, models, etchings and prints inside the state rooms of the main house (e.g. Spindle Piece, Stone Carvings) and the South Wing Gallery (Elephant Skull, Prints and Sculpture). The exhibition outlines Moore’s artistic practice, whereby he would start with a found object, such as a piece of flint, then make a Plasticine model, using the natural form as a template from which to mould his artwork. The next stage would be to upscale the figure into a ‘working model’ and then once again to a monumental size. Highlights of the exhibition are all shown on this webpage above and below and they include many of Moore’s celebrated works.

Above: Mother and Child: Block Seat. 1983-84. Bronze. 244 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1986

Above: Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut. 1979-81. Bronze 470 × 225 × 399 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1986.

Above: The Arch. 1963/69. Fibreglass. 610 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Above: Upright Motive No. 8, 1955-56, Bronze The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1979

Above: Bird Form I. 1973. Black serpentine. 36.8 cm The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Above: Bird Form II. 1973 Black serpentine. 34.3 cm. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Above: Reclining Figure: Bone. 1975. Travertine marble. 157.5 cm The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Above: Working Model for Spindle Piece. 1968-69. Bronze. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.


Above (left to right): Maquette for Spindle Piece. 1968. Plaster. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977; Flint relating to Maquette for Spindle Piece. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977; Maquette for Spindle Piece. 1968 Bronze. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Above: Two Piece Points: Skull. 1969. Fibreglass. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977

Above: Elephant Skull. The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977.

Also at the exhibition is a short video about Moore, with footage of the artist at work in Perry Green, the hamlet near Much Hadham in Hertfordshire where he made his home in 1941; today, the Henry Moore Foundation is based here. Further photographs taken from the visit to the exhibition are shown in the thumbnail gallery below, including some of the pieces seen from different angles, some of the prints and explanatory notices on the walls (click on an image to enlarge):

Houghton Hall & Gardens

Described invariably as ‘One of the grandest survivors of the Palladian era’ and ‘Norfolk’s finest house’, Houghton Hall was built in 1721 for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford. The residence was designed by architects James Gibbs and Colen Campbell and built in creamy Yorkshire stone in the new Palladian style. The exterior is complemented by the equally magnificent interiors, designed by William Kent for entertaining on a grand scale, and furnished to reflect Walpole’s wealth and power; the decor inside the hall includes silk and velvet hanging, tapestries, gilding and marble, resulting in a rich background for the magnificent 18th-century furniture.

Ownership of Houghton passed to Robert Walpole’s son and grandson, the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Orford. It then reverted to his uncle, the Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford. On Horace’s death, possession passed to the family of his deceased sister, Lady Mary, Countess of Cholmondeley. She had married George Cholmondeley, 3rd Earl of Cholmondeley, and Houghton has been passed through generations of this family ever since; at the time of writing (2019), Houghton Hall is the residence of David Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, and his family.

Houghton once contained part of Sir Robert Walpole's great picture collection which was sold by his grandson, the 3rd Earl of Orford, in 1779 to Catherine the Great of Russia to pay off some of the estate's accumulated debt. In more recent times, a number of pictures, furniture, silver and objets d'art have been sold off to help pay for inheritance taxes, maintenance of the house and grounds and towards an endowment fund for the future preservation of the building. Pictures remaining in the collection today include a Thomas Gainsborough oil painting of his own family and William Hogarth's portrait of the Cholmondeley family. Also, of note here is Houghton’s collection of some 20,000 lead model soldiers and militants (one of the largest such collections in the world), kept in a museum in the stables, in the western block on what now known as the Stable Square. The square almost feels continental in nature, as if one has temporarily been whisked away from the Norfolk countryside; it has a fully licensed café, WCs, a gift shop, a gallery (featuring pop-up exhibitions and the like), the Houghton Furniture Company, and a fountain as its centrepiece. The stables also include a range of original wooden stalls, with a tack and harness room.

Houghton Hall is surrounded by traditional parkland, which includes a herd of white fallow deer and perhaps one of the reasons to make a long day out of a visit here during the warmer months is the landscaped gardens. These include a laid out area of pleached lime trees which connect the stables to an area near the south wing of the house (pleaching being entwining or interlacing tree branches to form a hedge, providing a protected outdoor walkway), the award-winning five-acre walled garden (a must-see, but mind not to get lost), and a number of outdoor contemporary sculptures/art installations by world renowned artists on permanent display, many of which were specially commissioned for Houghton. These art works include (and shown lower down in the thumbnail gallery): Richard Long’s Full Moon Circle, James Turrell’s Skyspace: Seldom Seen, Phillip King’s Dunstable Reel, Houghton Cross (again by Richard Long), and the rather impressive Waterflame by Jeppe Hein. This list is not comprehensive; more can be found out on a visit here and information about the hall, its grounds and events (such as equestrian eventing and concerts) can be found on the official Houghton Hall website Here.

Other main areas of the grounds include a picnic and children’s play area near the car park, the 13th-century St Martin’s Church (Sir Robert Walpole, his two wives, his brother and his successors, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Earls of Orford are all buried here), a long ha-ha wall running along (most notably) the western edge of the gardens, and the water tower (which Walpole had constructed and has the appearance of an architectural folly). Photographs taken from inside the house and grounds, including the stables and Soldier Museum, are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

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