An artist who is largely forgotten today, Henry Moore was acclaimed in the 1870s and 1880s as Britain’s foremost painter of the sea.
Henry Moore was born in York in 1831, one of fourteen children of the portrait painter William Moore and his second wife Sarah Collingham. William and Sarah had six children together, three of whom, Henry and his siblings John and Albert, were to become professional artists. Two elder siblings from William’s first marriage, William junior and Edwin, also became artists, while a third, Frank, was to be a picture dealer in York. Henry Moore’s first instruction in art came from his father and elder brother William.
Henry Moore’s formal schooling ended when he was fourteen, after which he devoted himself exclusively to art. After leaving school, he worked as a journeyman painter for a York picture dealer, before entering the York School of Design in 1851 at the age of twenty. In his youth, he was drawn to botanical, ornithological and insect studies and, in later life, he was to be a keen lepidopterist. He also studied the sea and its changing effects from his childhood. His earliest studies have not survived, but they sufficiently impressed his father, who was to advise his son: ‘Whatever else you paint, you must paint the sea’.1Frank Maclean, Henry Moore R. A., The Walter Scott Publishing Co., London, 1905, p. 24. In 1853 Moore moved to London, sharing lodgings with his brother John Collingham. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy this year, as well as enrolling in the Royal Academy Schools, where John was already a student. He did not take to the RA’s formal instruction, however, and around 1855 he joined the more congenial The Artist’s Society and Langham Sketching Club. In the summer of 1855 Moore and his elder brother William travelled to Switzerland together on a painting trip that provided subjects for subsequent landscape contributions to Royal Academy exhibitions.
In the summer of 1857, Moore visited Clovelly, a fishing village in North Devon, where his youthful interest in the sea was reinvigorated. His diary entries from this time show a remarkable sense of acute observation of the watery elements:
I noticed that the breaking foam coming between me and the west was darker than the trough of the waves, which reflected the green and gold of the sky; also that the spray flying up from a rock was purple and gold, one part being dark off the sky behind, with flecks and patches of gold … reflected or transmitted light when it came off the sea.2Henry Moore, diary entry from summer 1857, in Maclean, p. 34.
His biographer Franck MacLean, who published the first and only monograph on Moore in 1905, noted how
Later he was to use these observations in his art. At present the time was not ripe for that; he could only record in his notebook those pictures in words, which he dared not yet attempt to convert into pictures on canvas.3ibid. p. 35.
By 1858 Moore had already contributed fourteen pictures to the Royal Academy exhibitions. He also exhibited regularly at the Society of British Artists, the British Institution and the Portland Gallery, and his art had begun to sell, bringing him a moderate income. At this time, he was painting mostly Devon landscapes, along with the occasional Swiss scene and sea study. In 1860, he married Mary Bolland, and the couple travelled to Europe on a honeymoon combined with study of the Old Masters. Throughout the 1860s Moore continued to paint landscapes, although seascapes now became more prominent in his oeuvre. In 1865, he joined the Dudley Gallery Art Society and, in 1867, he was elected a member of the Society of British Artists.
A turning point in Moore’s art came with his Winter gale in the Channel, 1872 (Wolverhampton Art Gallery), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1872, of which The Athenaeum noted that ‘except a little bit of purple sand in one corner … [it] contains nothing but sea and sky’, proclaiming it to be
a marine epic, inspired by poetic power of the right kind, expressive as a masterpiece should be, wrought with the hand of a master guided by consummate knowledge of nature, so that what might be called the mighty volition of tumultuous seas is put before us in perfect keeping and homogeneity.4‘The Royal Academy (second notice)’, The Athenaeum, no. 2324, 11 May 1872, p. 597.
In order to paint the study for this scene, Moore spent hours on the beach at Hastings, in East Sussex, amidst a wild storm. His work became even more immersive the following year, when he first began to paint while while on a ship at sea. Rough Weather in the open Mediterranean, 1874 (Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery), the study for which was painted during a furious tempest at sea, reinforced Moore’s credentials as the foremost marine painter of his day. Weeks-long cruises on the Dawn, an eighty-ton yawl belonging to his friend George Burnett, and the Gladys, a hundred-ton schooner yacht owned by another friend Fred Gossage, took Moore out of the English Channel to the inland seas of West Scotland and the Irish coast, supplying him over the coming years with endless, majestic marine motifs.5Maclean, p. 70.
In 1875, Henry Moore showed Outside the harbour, 1872, a painting executed three years previously, at London’s Royal Academy. By then Moore’s reputation as a master painter of the sea was firmly cemented and press reviews of his work were suitably glowing. The Observer (1875) dubbed it ‘a fine marine study’, and Blackburn’s Academy Notes (1875) remarked that ‘there is probably no finer drawing of sea in the exhibition’, while The Architect (1875) commended it particularly for its readers:
Mr Henry Moore is in great force. Outside the harbour (1,176) is probably the artist’s finest work for drive of wind and wave, and helpless rock of the deserted hulk upon the water. The study of sky is admirable, with the sudden gleam of sunshine between the rifts of cloud upon the crested shoulder of a huge wave, causing it to cast a shadow on the hollow beneath, foam-laced and seething.6 ‘The Royal Academy exhibition. First notice’, The Observer, 2 May 1875, p. 5; Henry Blackburn, Academy Notes, Chatto and Windus, London, 1875, p. 49. ‘Painting at the Royal Academy. III’, The Architect, 22 May 1875, p. 301.
Comparing it to fellow artist John Brett’s enormous Spires and Steeples of the Channel Islands 1874 (currently untraced), which it called ‘another example of realism – meaning thereby the close observation and painstaking reproduction of natural effects – carried to a notable degree of perfection,’ The Scotsman (1875) argued that
Similar in motive is H. Moore’s ‘Outside the Harbour,’ where a tremendous sea is tossing about the hulk of a dismasted vessel. If not quite true in colour, and somewhat wanting in transparency, the waves are powerfully modelled, and their heavy swing rendered with telling force. The sky, too, with its lower stratum of driving storm clouds, its voluminous cumuli in a higher region reflecting warm sunlight, and above all, the serene blue, streaked with the delicate grey mare’s tail, is a masterpiece of careful study.7‘The Royal Academy’s exhibition’, The Scotsman, 1 May 1875, p. 6./span>
This close appreciation of Moore’s depiction of cirrus uncinus (curly hook), or mare’s tail clouds, would doubtless have pleased Moore, who was noted for his meticulous observation of the atmospheric intricacies of both sea and sky.
Outside the harbour was exhibited again in late 1881, in a show of marine pictures at the Fine Art Society’s gallery in Bond Street, where it was deemed ‘noble’ by The Portfolio (1882) and ‘masterly’ and ‘noteworthy’ by The Morning Post (1881).8‘Art chronicle’, The Portfolio, vol. 13, 1882, p. 21. ‘The sea exhibition’, The Morning Post, 2 Dec. 1881, p. 6. The Magazine of Art (1882) praised the manner in which
In [Moore’s] ‘Outside the Harbour’ the sea and sky agree to be in discord with Nature; an angry sullen air pervades both elements, as they unite in rocking the huge mastless hulk of a vessel that lies on its side, deserted and forlorn. The feeling of greatness, and of the might of the sea, is very admirably expressed.9‘Pictures of the sea’, The Magazine of Art, vol. 5, 1882, p. 163.
The Scotsman’s feeling in 1875 was that Moore’s painting was
not quite true in colour, and somewhat wanting in transparency’ deserves to be challenged. In the 1870s, Moore was obsessed with documenting the sea’s very absence of the bright blue colour traditionally ascribed to it, observing with unerring accuracy the ‘grey and mournful waters … [of] the surf-vexed northern and eastern coasts’.10Maclean, p. 137.
Only in the 1880s did he begin to fully celebrate the ‘brilliant and living blue seas’.11ibid.
According to his biographer Frank Maclean, in the autumn of 1874 Moore was at Broughton-in-Furness in the mid-west of England with his brother William, and he had also he made the study for Outside the harbour in this region, so presumably the painting records an unsettled winter’s day on the west coast of Cumbria.12Maclean, p. 69. It was Moore’s usual practice to make studies directly from nature for each of his compositions, which were then worked up into finished pictures in his studio. In the left middle distance of Moore’s painting, there are gathered groups of fishermen who appear to be engaged in the haaf (open sea) net fishing for salmon and trout traditionally undertaken in the Solway Firth, part of the Irish Sea on the border between Cumbria in England and Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, enabling perhaps a more precise location for Outside the harbour to be pinpointed.
A very large and immersive painting, Outside the harbour is a tour-de-force of expressive brushwork that captures with almost photographic detail the surge of surf and the complex play of light over wave and cloud with resultant myriad pigment shifts. In 1890, the critic P. G. Hamerton wrote of how in Moore’s marine works
we are in the freshness of the sea air, and amidst marine movement and colour; I might almost add that we have the smell of the sea in our nostrils … It may be that the painter has accepted to some extent the aid which instantaneous photography now gives to the student of wave-form, but his usual place of study has been out in a boat, tossing amongst the waves themselves’.13P. G. Hamerton, ‘A modern marine painter’, The Portfolio, vol. 21, 1890, p. 88.
This aroused the ire of the artist, who protested that ‘he does not paint from photographs, and that all his pictures, large or small, are either direct from nature or painted from his own studies made at sea’.14P. G. Hamerton, ‘Mr. Henry Moore’s marine pictures’, The Portfolio, vol. 21, 1890, p. 110.
As the premier art critic of his day, John Ruskin lamented in his influential Modern Painters (1843) how impossible it was for artists to capture
the wild, various, fantastic, tameless unity of the sea … to paint the actual play of hue on the reflective surface … the precision and grace of the sea wave, so exquisitely modelled, though so mockingly transient … to do this perfectly, is beyond the power of man.15John Ruskin, Modern Painters. Vol. I (1843), Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1873, pp. 320–1.
Contemplating Outside the harbour in 1875, the critic for The Athenaeum felt that Ruskin’s challenge for artists of the sea had been conquered:
Mr. Moore knows how to model the surfaces of waves, so that their foreshortening is perfectly rendered, even to the flakes of foam which ascend on the hollows of rising breakers, or, arch-like, span the backs of the billows. The sea has seldom, before this artist and time, been painted as skillfully and with so profound a knowledge of its movements, to say nothing of the effect of light reflected or absorbed, as light may be, by masses of water. Mr. Moore is a man of science in these respects, and there is much to be learned from a study of what he does.16‘The Royal Academy (second notice)’, The Athenaeum, no. 2481, 15 May 1875, p. 661.
In 1905, Frank Maclean paid tribute to Henry Moore’s mastery of the brush as a painter:
From first to last … the principle of directness governed his brushwork, and whether we look at the careful foregrounds of his early landscapes or at the short, decisive strokes that give form and colour to his mature seascapes, that principle is apparent. He knew precisely what he was going to paint before he began, and he painted it without wavering in or altering his intention, using the larger or the smaller brush according to his sure instinct, to the uttermost value of each. Nowadays, when there are so many adventitious aids to effect employed by artists who have never really mastered the handling of paint, the purity of his technique appears remarkable. It must not be inferred that he never used a palette-knife or any other device for heightening a high light or giving richness or solidity to a particular part of a canvas; to suggest such self-denial would be to acclaim him more than human. But the instances when these devices occur are, comparatively speaking, extremely rare, and his greatest triumphs were achieved by sheer dexterity of the brush and the brush alone.17Maclean, p. 138.
Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria
Frank Maclean, Henry Moore R. A., The Walter Scott Publishing Co., London, 1905, p. 24.
Henry Moore, diary entry from summer 1857, in Maclean, p. 34.
ibid. p. 35.
‘The Royal Academy (second notice)’, The Athenaeum, no. 2324, 11 May 1872, p. 597.
Maclean, p. 70.
‘The Royal Academy exhibition. First notice’, The Observer, 2 May 1875, p. 5; Henry Blackburn, Academy Notes, Chatto and Windus, London, 1875, p. 49. ‘Painting at the Royal Academy. III’, The Architect, 22 May 1875, p. 301.
‘The Royal Academy’s exhibition’, The Scotsman, 1 May 1875, p. 6.
‘Art chronicle’, The Portfolio, vol. 13, 1882, p. 21. ‘The sea exhibition’, The Morning Post, 2 Dec. 1881, p. 6.
‘Pictures of the sea’, The Magazine of Art, vol. 5, 1882, p. 163.
Maclean, p. 137.
Maclean, p. 69.
P. G. Hamerton, ‘A modern marine painter’, The Portfolio, vol. 21, 1890, p. 88.
P. G. Hamerton, ‘Mr. Henry Moore’s marine pictures’, The Portfolio, vol. 21, 1890, p. 110.
John Ruskin, Modern Painters. Vol. I (1843), Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1873, pp. 320–1.
‘The Royal Academy (second notice)’, The Athenaeum, no. 2481, 15 May 1875, p. 661.
Maclean, p. 138.