Henry Moore is hailed as the most important British sculptor of the twentieth century. Concentrating on the human figure, particularly women, he produced sculptures and a large number of drawings which combined his great knowledge of art of the past with the new trends of the century in which it befell him to live.
In accordance with his father’s wishes and against his own desire to become a sculptor, Moore worked as a teacher and only in 1919, after returning wounded from France, where he served during the First World War, did he begin studying at the Leeds School of Art. In 1921 he enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London, where he had the chance to visit the British Museum regularly. As well as being captivated by the Greek sculptures, Moore was fascinated by non-Western expressions of art, such as that of Africa, Oceania and, in particular, pre-Columbian art. During the 1920s he travelled to France and Italy, where he admired the work of Cézanne, Picasso, Hans Arp and Modigliani, but also that of Renaissance masters such as Giotto and Massaccio.
In 1933 Moore joined Unit One, a group of avant-garde painters, sculptors and architects that included Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and the critic Herbert Read. Also, although he never fully subscribed to the Surrealist doctrines, he was connected with the advocates of the movement in England and showed his work in the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries in London in 1936.
In 1940 Moore’s studio was wrecked by bombs and shortly afterwards the Government commissioned him to capture on paper the Londoners who sought shelter in the underground stations. For these drawings, Moore returned to a more naturalistic style, although even in his more abstract works he never completely abandoned figuration.
In 1946, while the New York Museum of Modern Art was showing a major respective of his work, his only child, Mary, was born. During this period his drawings and studies reflected family and domestic life. Women, either alone or accompanied by a child — a frequent theme in his previous work — became his main subject-matter from this point onwards. Two years later, in 1948, the Venice Biennale awarded him the International Prize for Sculpture, which consolidated his international reputation. Thereafter he received commissions for public works, which allowed him to produce larger sculptures. Examples of the latter are the Reclining Figure (1956–58) for UNESCO in Paris and the work by the same title for the Lincoln Center in New York (1963–65).