Henry Moore at Perry Green, edited by Sandra Pisano
London, 2011, ISBN 978 1 85759 683 0, £12.95
Perry Green provides an extraordinary range of experiences. One visits the home of the artist, the studios in which he worked, special exhibitions of his work, the gardens containing major sculptural pieces and (by appointment) the well-stocked archive centre. Many visitors combine some or all of the above with a visit to the pub he owned. For Henry Moore clearly liked to accumulate property. There is nothing grand on the site – the Castleford boy clearly had no time for grandeur – but it is large and spread over a large part of this hamlet.
The variety of experiences available to the visitor is unique in the British Isles. There are a few re-created studios of 20th Century British artists available to see, such as Francis Bacon’s studio in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin or Eduardo Paolozzi’s in the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh; there are a few single artist galleries to see – I can think of Derek Hill’s house and gallery at Church Hill in County Donegal, David Hockney’s gallery in Saltaire and the new Hepworth gallery in Wakefield. No doubt there are a few others. But nowhere can one see the whole range of artistic activities of a major artist on the site where they were originally taking place.
The book is an excellent small guide to the experiences available (except for the archive and the pub). It has good photographs and a short, sensible text setting the context and explaining what there is to see. I would think that anyone with an interest in art or sculpture, reading this or just flicking through its pages, would be inspired to go and see what the place is like.
The photographs in particular are a gorgeous treat, expertly taken and printed on high quality paper. (Indeed, the production is a great credit to Scala, the publishers). One aspect of the photos which I found fascinating is the sight of some of the major sculptural pieces in the garden under snow (see the photos on pages 69, 72 and 92). I have visited Perry Green on a number of occasions, but never under snow. If one accepts that one purpose of placing sculpture outdoors is to enable the viewer to experience its changing relationship to its setting, depending on the time of year and different weather conditions, then the sight of Oval with Points, from 1968-1970, partially filled with snow and set in a snowy landscape and pale blue sky, is a revelation. There is, in respect of this particular sculpture, a neat contrast available on page 15, where the same work is shown in the beautiful flowery setting of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, with the towers of the city in the background. Then, on page 40, one sees a photo of a working model of the same work, in what is called the Top Studio, gleaming in white plaster against the light industrial background of its creation.
The visitor to Perry Green cannot help but come away with the overwhelming impression of the variety of things which Moore undertook – the sculptures of different types, sizes and materials, the etchings, textiles and tapestries. One also comes away with a sense of the huge physicality of creating sculpture and the challenges of scaling up from the small working models and maquettes. It is no wonder that 50 other sculptors over the years worked with him to produce his sculpture, many going on to become well-known in their own right . The fact that the Moores came to rural Hertfordshire in 1940 is interesting in itself, as part of a pattern of artists moving away from London to escape the bombing. London was in normal times a magnet attracting artists, because of the opportunities there to sell their work, but in or shortly before the War the opposite occurred and we also see, for example, Ivon Hitchens moving out to Sussex, Ceri Richards to Norfolk, Ben Nicholson to Cornwall and so on.
Two final points for the visitor to Perry Green. It is a moving end to a visit to walk or drive the short distance down the road to the churchyard of St Thomas’s. There, easily seen, are the simple gravestones of the sculptor and his wife. Then it is only a short detour to take in St Andrew’s at nearby Much Hadham. There, as one walks towards the west door of the church, one sees carved stone heads of a king and a queen in the door surrounds, for all the world like the work of some skilled but anonymous medieval stonemason; but in fact small and effective examples, dating from 1953, of the extraordinarily varied talents of Henry Moore.