Time-Life Screen 1952-53 (LH 344)


Portland stone
length 808cm

photo: Errol Jackson

I think Architecture is the poorer for the absence of sculpture and I also think that the sculptor, by not collaborating with the architect, misses opportunities of his work being used socially and being seen by a wider public. And it was feeling that the time is coming for architects and sculptors to work together again, that brought me to do the double commission for the Time-Life building in Bond Street, of both the Bronze Draped Reclining Figure for the terrace. I was first asked to do only the Reclining Figure, and was glad to, as that fitted in with the idea of free standing sculpture in relation to architecture. It was at a later stage that the architect of the building approached me about the sculptural screen and I accepted the chance of working simultaneously upon two such entirely different sculptural problems... It seemed to me that the screen must be made to look as though it was part of the architecture, for it is a continuation of the surface of the building – and is an obvious part of the building... The fact that it is only a screen, a kind of balustrade to the Terrace with space behind it, led me to carve it with a back as well as a front, and to pierce it, which gives an interesting penetration of light, and also from Bond Street makes it obvious that it is a screen and not a solid part of the building... With the perspective sketch of the building beside me I made four maquettes. My aim was to give a rhythm to the spacing and size of the sculptural motives which should be in harmony with the architecture. I rejected the idea of a portrayal of some pictorial scene, for that would only be like hanging up a stone picture, like using the position only as a hoarding for sticking on a stone poster... Long before the carvings themselves were ready, I had to decide upon the shape and size of the openings of the screen, so that the architect could get it prepared and built into position before the carvings arrived on the site. The four big stones themselves were carved on scaffolding erected in my garden – and, of course, without the stone frame screen round them. By the time I realised that they didn’t really need a screen at all, the screen had been made and was in position on the building, and all I could do was arrange for the openings to be made larger, that is to say as large as possible, without weakening the structure of the screen. I found too that that my project really demanded a turn-table for each of the carvings, so that they could be turned say of the first of each month, each to a different view, and project from the building like some of those half animals that look as if they are escaping through the walls in Romanesque reliefs. I wanted them to be like half-buried pebbles whose form one’s eye instinctively completes. This idea of sculpture buried in a wall or jutting out from it is quite different from the idea behind Renaissance reliefs, where the solid is suggested be perspective. The Renaissance relief is a pictorial conception really and not a sculptural one. Trial and error is essential to the creative process but unfortunately in the 20th century one cannot change one’s mind on the job. I say ‘in the 20th century’ because I’m sure that the people who built Chartres Cathedral were able to have second thoughts. The carrying out of the fully developed idea of the Time-Life screen would have entailed elaborate reinforcement of the building and expense beyond the original estimates, but what has been done is the beginning of something, and the idea, particularly the turntable idea may yet bear fruit I hope in architectural sculpture of the future.

Henry Moore quoted in Sculpture in the Open Air: A Talk by Henry Moore on his Sculpture and its Placing in Open-Air Sites, edited by Robert Melville and recorded by the British Council 1955: typescript; copy in HMF library