UH Arts + Culture and St Albans Museum + Gallery are delighted to present the largest exhibition of coalmining drawings by celebrated artist, Henry Moore. 

Henry Moore is famous for his sculpture, particularly of women and abstract forms. His drawings of Londoners sheltering from The Blitz are also well known. But it is often forgotten that Moore was the son of a coalminer from Castleford in Yorkshire, and as a war artist, he developed a detailed series of drawings from sketches he made at the mine where his father had worked.

This exhibition unites the largest group of Moore’s coalmining drawings since their commissioning by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee 80 years ago.

In early 1942, Moore spent two weeks sketching underground at Wheldale Colliery. He found it challenging drawing figures emerging from the dusty darkness yet filled a notebook with sketches of miners labouring, gathering and resting. Back in his Hertfordshire studio, Moore worked from these observed studies to develop compositions for further drawings and finished pieces. The commission focused his attention on the male figure at work – a rare departure from his preoccupation with the reclining female form.

Consisting of nearly 100 drawings, showcased alongside sculptures and other works-on-paper, the exhibition invites visitors to journey from quick pencil sketches, through developmental drawings, finished pieces and finally to later works inspired by Moore’s coalmining experience.

The coalmining drawings not only demonstrate the back-breaking labour miners endured as part of Britain’s war effort, they also reveal new insights into Moore’s life, artistic process and influences on later works – offering a unique opportunity to see the leading British Modernist sculptor afresh, through drawings, notes and a rare choice of subject matter.

This timely exhibition takes inspiration from the new book, Drawing in the Dark: Henry Moore’s Coalmining Commission by art historian Chris Owen, published by Lund Humphries in Autumn 2022 and launched in conjunction with the exhibition.

Curated by UH Arts + Culture for St Albans Museum + Gallery. Generously supported by the Henry Moore Foundation and Arts Council England, and made possible as a result of the Government Indemnity Scheme.

Banner Image Credit: Pit Boys at Pit Head, 1942, Wakefield Permanent Art Collection. Image courtesy of The Hepworth Wakefield.

Person looking at artworks © Rob Harris

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