On completion of his studies at the Royal College of Art in 1924, Henry Moore went almost immediately into teaching. On graduation, he was invited to return to the college he had just left, to teach sculpture in the fine art department. This outcome for Moore also marked a significant change at the RCA. The Principle William Rothenstein had arrived in 1920 and had switched the polarity of the RCA completely. Under Rothenstein’s influence the RCA started to introduce working artists to the students. They brought their knowledge of a subject to their students as mentors and non-academic practitioners. Moore was employed by the RCA as a professional artist., and with Moore’s background in education, he was well-equipped to go straight into teaching two days a week, developing his own work along side that of his students.
What seems like a watershed moment to us in art education now, would have gone against prevailing thinking, but Rothenstein reformed art education by making an obvious adjustment to academic thinking. By doing so he set the template for art education that is recognisable in leading art schools today. Henry Moore was right at that moment of change. This moment aided his early stages of professional ascendancy as a sculptor and he taught part time at the RCA from 1924 until 1931. It meant he was financially secure from the outset of his career and moved seamlessly into setting up his own studio and exhibiting work regularly. Teaching at the RCA also brought benefits in his personal life. In 1929 Moore married Irina Radetsky, while she was still a student at the college.
The couple moved to a new home and studio in Parkhill Road Belsize Park, north London. Their new home was just around the corner from the Isokon Building on Lawn Road, also known as Lawn Road Flats, that became a microcosm of the international avant-garde. During their years in Belsize Park their friends and neighbours included some of the most influential figures in the art world, like fellow sculptor Barbara Hepworth, the artist Ben Nicholson, and painter Paul Nash, curator, collector and poet Roland Penrose and art historian, philosopher and literary critic Herbert Read. All became leaders in their respective subjects.
From 1933 – 38, as Europe became more politically unstable and Germany moved to the right, intellectual refugees left cities like Vienna, Budapest and Berlin to teach their ideas in Paris and London. Many were ex-Bauhaus professors, fleeing from Berlin to London after the world famous art school had been forced to close its doors in 1933, after the Nazi regime made it impossible for the school to operate. Among these new arrivals were, the architect and designer Marcel Breuer (ex-professor at the Bauhaus), painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy (also ex-professor at the Bauhaus), sculptor and painter Naum Gabo (ex-lecturer at the Bauhaus) and architect Walter Gropius (ex-director of the Bauhaus).
It is not without irony that by applying political pressure to Bauhaus staff and bringing an end to their unorthodox approach to teaching creative subjects, the Nazis ensured that what they termed ‘degenerate art’ spread far and wide through cultural impetus that only highly motivated architects, designers, painters, sculptors could bring to each of their disciplines. Thanks to the forces the Third Reich set in place international modernism spread and flourished in the early half of the twentieth century in countries that possibly would not have taken such an avant-garde movement to heart, including Britain. In 1938 the pioneer of abstraction, Piet Mondrian briefly added to the wealth of leading lights in NW3. Moore continued to teach at Chelsea School of Art as Head of the Sculpture Department from 1932 until war broke out, and he and Irina moved from London to Perry Green near Much Hadam in Hertfordshire.
There is little doubt that Henry Moore would have had an international career without the political turmoil of the late twenties and early thirties. His work was championed by influential figures such as Roland Penrose and Kenneth Clark in Britain. However he was a beneficiary of the diaspora of modernist influencers forced by circumstance to move to places of safety. Thanks to many of modernism’s key figures moving on from Britain to other countries during the approach to WWII, Moore had passionate advocates for his work distributed among most western countries, like the United States, after the war.
Look at the work and life of the following artist friends and influencers who were contemporary to Moore:
Barbara Hepworth – http://barbarahepworth.org.uk/
Naum Gabo – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naum_Gabo
Ben Nicholson – https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/ben-nicholson
Ivon Hitchens – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivon_Hitchens