Perched on a sculpture

KENSINGTON GARDENS CONTAINS numerous works of art, one of which is a large piece by Henry Moore (1898-1986), a sculptor who is highly regarded by many people. It is a large irregularly shaped arch made of travertine, which stands overlooking the Long Water, the part of the Serpentine lake within the confines of Kensington Gardens. Presented by the artist to the park in 1980, its shape is based on that of an animal bone. I am not wild about Moore’s works, but this piece looks wonderful in its setting on the eastern bank of the Long Water.

Today, 19th of May 2021, whilst walking in Kensington Gardens I saw a heron standing on the western bank of the Long Water almost framed by the Moore arch. After circumnavigating the lake, we reached the point on the eastern shore where the sculpture stands. Through the archway you can see the eastern façade of Kensington Palace. Along the line that connects the palace and the sculpture, you can see another sculpture, “Physical Energy” by George Frederick Watts (1817-1904). The three items on this axis form a kind of timeline: the 18th century palace, the 19th century sculpture by Watts, and the 20th century sculpture by Moore.

I have walked past the Moore sculpture too many times to count, but it was only today that I saw a heron perched on top of it. I have seen geese and pigeons perched on it in the past, but this was the first time I saw a heron using it as a doubtless superb vantage point to survey its surroundings. Apart from the fact that I find herons beautiful, its close association with the sculpture struck a certain curious chord in my mind. Maybe, it was something to do with the fact that the words ‘heron’ and ‘henry’ share so many letters in common (3 out of 5). Whatever the reason, it was pleasing to see nature and art intimately in touch with each other.

Artists in Hampstead: London’s Montmartre

JUST AS MONTMARTRE in Paris attracted artists, particularly painters, so did Hampstead in north London. Best known amongst these were John Constable (1776-1837) and Sir George Romney (1734-1802), who both resided in Hampstead. Constable lived in various parts of Hampstead including Well Walk and Lower Terrace. Reynolds had a fine house on Holly Hill. Since the 18th century, many painters and sculptors have either worked and/or lived in Hampstead.

Studio of the painter Mark Gertler in Hampstead

Although I have visited Hampstead often over a period of more than six decades, it was only yesterday in April 2021 that I first noticed what looks like a small industrial unit with two sloping roofs each with large skylights along one side of Well Road. This is not what it looks like but was formerly artists’ work places, named Well Mount Studios. A commemorative plaque affixed to the building records that the painter Mark Gertler (1891-1939) lived here. I first became aware of this artist when visiting an exhibition at Dulwich Art Gallery in 2013 (www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/about/press-media/press-releases/dulwich-picture-gallery-presents-nash-nevinson-spencer-gertler-carrington-bomberg-a-crisis-of-brilliance/) in which pictures painted by artists who had studied at London’s Slade School of Art were displayed. Amongst these artists was Dora Carrington (1893-1932), whose brief sexual relationship with Gertler was the inspiration for a novel, “Mendel”, by Gilbert Cannan.  Gertler painted Cannan in about 1916.

Gertler lived at several other addresses in Hampstead in addition to Well Road: The Vale of Health, 13a Rudall Crescent, and 53 Haverstock Hill (https://rosemaryhallart.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/artists-in-hampstead-part-iii/).  His parents were poor Jewish immigrants. Gertler was born in London’s Spitalfields in 1891. Soon after that, his parents and the family returned to Austria-Hungary in 1892, settling in Przemyśl in Austria-Hungary (now in Poland). Then, in 1896, the family returned to London. Mark displayed great artistic talent as a child and in 1906, after leaving school, he studied art first at the Regents Street Polytechnic and then, at the recommendation of the artist Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945), who lived in Hampstead between 1902 and 1912, he entered The Slade. Rothenstein lived at 12 Church Row, where he painted “Mother and Child” in 1903 (www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/rothenstein-mother-and-child-t05075).

While at the Slade, Mark was a contemporary of artists including Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, C. R. W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Isaac Rosenberg, and Morris Goldstein (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Gertler_(artist)). During his time at the Slade, he met and became infatuated with Dora Carrington.

Mark moved to Hampstead in late 1914. According to Caroline Maclean in her book about the Hampstead Modernists, “Circles & Squares”, Mark moved into the studios near New End, i.e. Well Mount Studios, in 1915, and painted his well-known “Merry-Go-Round” in 1916. This painting that is in the collection held by the Tate Gallery was inspired by a special funfair that was held on Hampstead Heath in 1915 on behalf of wounded soldiers and sailors (www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gertler-merry-go-round-t03846). The painting is believed to reflect that artist’s reaction to war. He was a conscientious objector. He had written to his patron, the art collector Edward Marsh (1852-1953):

“’I am I believe what you call a “passivist”. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I just hate the war”.

Well Mount Studios were built in the late 19th century (http://hughcullum.com/portfolio/well-mount-studios/). The building’s exterior is not particularly attractive but its interior was tastefully renewed in 2003.

Gertler contracted tuberculosis in 1920. He married Marjorie Greatorex Hodgkinson ten years later and they had a son in 1932. Both he and his wife suffered bad health and Mark’s mental stability deteriorated during the 1930s. Tragically, he committed suicide in 1939 in his studio which was by then at 5 Grove Terrace, Highgate Road (near Parliament Hill Fields), London (https://artuk.org/discover/stories/the-genius-of-the-place-mark-gertler).

A relatively early 20th century artistic arrival in Hampstead, Gertler was followed by a host of other 20th century artists from all over Britain and elsewhere. These included well-known creators such as Barbara Hepworth, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, and many others. When I was at the Hall School at Swiss Cottage between 1960 and 1965, one of my fellow pupils was a son of the graphic designer Frederick Henri Kay Henrion (1914-1990) and his wife the sculptor Daphne Hardy Henrion (1917-2003), who was once a close friend of the writer Arthur Koestler (1905-1983). The Henrions lived in Pond Street for twenty years from about 1946 onwards. They had two sons, one of whom attended The Hall with me. I do not recall his first name because at that school everyone addressed each other by their surnames.

Far less well-known than any of the above-mentioned artists was my mother’s cousin Dolf Rieser (1898-1983; https://dolfrieser.com/biography/). Dolf, a fine etcher and engraver, lived in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to attend his inspiring classes in the large studio in his house. Some examples of his prolific output are in important collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum, both in London. Apart from being a great judge of composition, my relative Dolf was highly inventive as his son Richard noted:

“Dolf was innovative, experimenting with plaster prints, silk scarf prints for Liberty’s, printing on leather, printing on plastic paper to be laminated table-tops and on fibre glass to create translucent panels. He even designed for the whole side of a building a ‘print’ to be sand blasted into the concrete, at a university Witwatersrand in the form of a Bushman cave painting. Dolf worked with a plastics expert, Richard Wood, to develop the laminated hand made prints and the prints on fibre glass. The prints went off to the factory to be laminated, but the fibre glass he rolled onto the plate which had been inked with specially prepared plastic pigments, then had resin spread on and then another layer of fibre glass. The resin warmed up and emitted a sweet smell, like honey, and when it was set it could be peeled off the plate. A light could be put behind to give a translucent image.” (https://dolfrieser.com/a-personal-memory/)

Working in Dolf’s studio once a week for a few years helped made me feel like I was involved in the Hampstead art scene at least a little bit.

During my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, when we often visited Hampstead, there used to be an annual summer fair of local artists’ works held on the wide pavement of Heath Street near to Whitestone Pond. Most of these artists were far less well-known than the likes of Gertler or even my relative Dolf Rieser, but seeing the exhibition helped to imprint Hampstead’s rich association with visual art firmly in my then young mind.

Sculpted by nature

WE DROVE AWAY from the sun-soaked, windswept sands on the sea front in Paignton (Devon) and headed upwards on to Dartmoor. We followed narrow roads, often barely wide enough for a single car, bounded by hedges, until we rumbled across cattle grids and entered the wide-open spaces of the moor. The roads remained narrow, but the vistas were wide open. Patches of the moor have been cultivated but most of it is not. Sheep, cattle, and occasional horses or ponies grazed here and there.

We headed up a hill topped with what looked from afar like the ruins of a temple or a small fortress. As we neared it, we saw it consisted of piles of huge flat surfaced, irregularly shaped greyish boulders piled on top of each other in what seemed like a state of precarious balance. It appeared as if a giant had collected these stones and put them together in piles, as if to tidy up the land around them, to clear the space for animals to graze. We had arrived at Combestone Tor. A ‘tor’ is defined as:

“… a large, free-standing rock outcrop that rises abruptly from the surrounding smooth and gentle slopes of a rounded hill summit or ridge crest.”

The definition of tor includes the rocky outcrops I have seen in South Africa, where they are known as ‘koppie’ or ‘kopje’.

We walked from the car park towards the picturesque, tall piles of rocks, the tor, arranged almost artistically. Nature has done a better job aesthetically than many modern artists. A strong warm wind buffeted us as we approached them. It is weather conditions, like wind and rain, that have shaped the stones over the centuries and millennia. The formation of these geological formations began about 280 million years ago when molten rock crystallised to form granite (see: www.dartmoor.gov.uk/data/assets/pdf_file/0025/72097/lab-tors.pdf ). To cut a very long story short, rock covering the granite gradually wore away, allowing the granite to become exposed to the atmosphere. Oversimplifying a lot, the minerals between the lumps of granite became worn away by meteorological forces and, during the ice age(s), by mechanical forces generated by freezing and thawing. What has been left after all this is what we see today.  

The earliest surviving written mention of Combestone Tor was in 1333, when it was named ‘Comerston’ (see: http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/combe_stone.htm).  On an 1809 map the tor is named ‘Cumstun’. Over the years its name has mutated to ‘Combestone’.

We wandered around the tor enjoying the amazingly balanced jumble of rocks of different sizes and the views of the surrounding landscape that stretches far below the summit of the hill (1168 feet above sea level) on which the weathered stones perch. Nearby brown cattle grazed, probably unaware of the strange geological formations, which we had come to enjoy. Recently, we visited the former home and gardens of the sculptor Henry Moore. His often huge sculptures dominate the landscape like the stone pillars that form the tor. Whereas Moore’s sculptures seemed to intrude on the landscape and deform one’s view of it, the rocky piles that comprise the tor feel harmoniously integrated into their surroundings.  Give me moor, rather than Moore, any day!

At home with Henry Moore

PERRY GREEN IS A TINY hamlet near Much Hadham in Hertfordshire and was home to a sculptor whose works are often anything but tiny. Henry Moore (1898-1986) was born when Auguste Rodin, the ‘father of modern sculpture’, was 58 years old and about five years before another great British sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, was born. Moore’s works have influenced the output of some of my favourite 20th century British sculptors such as Anthony Caro, Philip King, and Eduardo Paolozzi. Both Caro and King worked as assistants to Henry Moore.

M 11

In 1929, Moore married an art student from Kiev, a refugee from the Russian Revolution, Anatolia Radetzki (1907–1989), and the couple lived in Hampstead at 11a Parkhill Road, which Moore had rented in advance the year before. Their home was close to other leaders in the world of art including Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Roland Penrose, and Herbert Read. In those days, Hampstead was part of the nucleus of London’s artistic sphere.

In September 1940, the Moore’s home in Hampstead was damaged by bomb shrapnel. Henry and Irina moved out of London to Perry Green, where they began living at a farmhouse called Hoglands, which is a late medieval house, rebuilt and then remodelled in the 17th century. This and the land and other properties around it, which the Moores bought gradually, became the centre of his artistic production: his home and workshops.  In 1946, Irina gave birth to Mary, the Moore’s only child.

Rapidly and for the rest of his life, Henry’s artistic output, fame, and prosperity continued to increase. As his wealth grew, Moore, concerned about his legacy, established the Henry Moore Trust in 1977 with the help of his daughter. According to the Foundation’s website:

“The Henry Moore Foundation was founded by the artist and his family in 1977 to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts.”

As part of its activities, it has opened to the public Moore’s creative environment at Perry Green. Following the recent easing of the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’ restrictions, we took the opportunity to visit Moore’s lovely place in rural Hertfordshire.

We were able to visit some of Moore’s workshops including one that contains a huge collection of maquettes, small models or three-dimensional sketches for the artist’s visualisations of his ideas for larger works. Interspersed amongst these items, there are objects both man-made and natural (eg lumps of flint and skeletal bones) that Moore found and collected. Some of them inspired his creations. Seeing these maquettes alongside specimens of nature collected by the artist helped me see the connection between Moore’s work and natural forms.  

The gardens in which numerous finished sculptures are displayed are superbly laid out and well-maintained. Beyond the gardens, we walked through fields in which sheep graze overlooked by some of the larger of Moore’s creations on view at Perry Green. The sheep played a significant role in Moore’s creations; he often sketched them.

After stretching our legs and enjoying the lovely gardens and fields, we enjoyed hot drinks outside a well-designed modern building that serves as a café and visitor’s centre (including a shop where several books about Moore are on sale). One place that was closed to visitors because of the pandemic is the striking building housing the Henry Moore Archives. Originally, the archives were housed in a brick cottage of no architectural interest called Elmwood. Between 2012 and 2018, the architect Hugh Broughton and his project director, Gianluca Rendina added a large modern-looking extension to Elmwood. It is an attractive structure, which is larger than the old cottage and is clad in COR-TEN steel that has weathered (oxidised) to become a warm reddish-brown colour. Far more geometric and less organic than Moore’s artworks, the building, like Moore’s sculptures, makes a pleasing contrast to the bucolic surroundings in Perry Green. Incidentally, the modern visitor’s centre/café complex was also designed by the Hugh Broughton Architects practice.

Although I loved visiting the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green and can strongly recommend it as a wonderful day-out for anyone who loves the countryside and/or modern art, I have one reservation, which is purely personal. I have never regarded the body of Henry Moore’s sculptural works as highly as those of some other twentieth century sculptors. To be fair, some of Moore’s creations really impress and move me, but the majority do not. Often when I visit an artist’s or a historical figure’s former home, my appreciation of its former inhabitant increases, but, sadly for me, visiting Moore’s place did nothing to improve my admiration of his works. But, please do not let my aesthetic opinions deter you from driving down Hertfordshire’s narrow winding country lanes to Perry Green, where the garden alone makes the effort well worthwhile. I am looking forward to making another visit soon, not so much for the sculptures but for the sheer joy that the place gave me. Who knows, but another visit to Much Hadham might make me more sympathetic to Moore’s works?