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Moore, Henry

b. 1898, Castleford, England; d. 1986, Much Hadham, England

At the Coal Face, 1942 Drawing, 33.3 x 55.3 cm Collection: Withworth Art Gallery

Four Studies of Miners at the Coal Face, 1942 Drawing, 36.5 x 56.2 cm Collection: Henry Moore Foundation

Men Clearing Coal Face and Climbing Over Belt, 1942 Drawing, 27.5 x 64.7 cm Collection: Manchester City Gallery 

In 1941 Moore was commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to draw men at work in the mines. He returned to Castleford, Yorkshire where he was born, and made sketches underground at Wheldale Colliery. Moore was the son of a miner, who had gone down the pit as a child of eight or nine but had taught himself in order to become a mines manager and was determined his children – Henry was the seventh of eight – should be educated. Moore, who was never romantic about the mines, was reluctant to accept the commission which he “approached coldly” by comparison with his war-time shelter drawings, which naturally resonated with his sculptures of reclining figures (Causey 2010: 121). The 1941-42 drawings of miners are the only ones he ever did of people at work. While his sculptures normally have static poses, here Moore “had to look at men in violent action,” as he said (ibid 121). The drawings of vigorous male figures in deep, restricted, compressed spaces convey sensations of claustrophobia and physical effort similar to those in Zola’s novel Germinal: “The sloping roof was so low that for whole stretches of twenty or thirty metres [Etienne] had to walk bent double. The water came up to his ankles. [... A] chimney, cut into the seam, was used by the miners for access to all the side passages. It was exactly the width of the coal-seam, hardly sixty centimetres across [...]” (see 1993: 37). DA