What could be better than a leisurely walk in the park especially when you’re surrounded by priceless sculptures worth millions of pounds?
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of my favourite places to enjoy a gentle stroll and a dollop of culture. It was recently voted Britain’s Museum of the Year and it’s easy to see why.
A walk around the park on a quiet day feels like you’re exploring your very own private art gallery as you browse the remarkable sculptures in the galleries and gardens.
Sculpture and landscape
The star attraction is currently a massive retrospective of the artist Henry Moore called ‘Back to a Land’ which looks at the sculptor’s work and its relationship with its environment.
There couldn’t be a better setting for the show with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s parkland landscapes, formal gardens and indoor gallery spaces.
Mixing large outdoor works, smaller sculptures, drawings and models, this show is a five-star triumph. It even outdoes the recent Tate Britain Henry Moore show which was pretty good but not as spectacular.
There’s even a fascinating collection of pieces from Moore’s own art collection including a carefully selected display of personal artefacts, notes, sketches and photographs, curated in collaboration with the artist’s daughter, Mary Moore.
It is intriguing to see how he collected South American and African art as well as ancient objects from around the world.
There is also an impressive selection of sculptures, maquettes and rare works on paper which demonstrate Moore’s interest in geology and rock formations, from the black coal seams of his hometown to the mystical ancient forms of Stonehenge.
After a trip around the Underground Gallery I felt that I’d got to know the artist in a way I hadn’t done before. The works are beautifully presented and curated with lots of fascinating information that is accessible to both art lovers and casual visitors.
The exhibition takes its title from Jacquetta Hawkes’ book ‘A Land’, a poetic history of the landscape of Britain which she published in 1951.
Henry Moore illustrated the 1954 edition of the book and the exhibition features these lovely originals. It sets the scene for the outdoor sculptures.
Henry Moore – superstar artist
Henry Moore (1898–1986) was born in Castleford in Yorkshire and is one of the best known British artists of the last century. He’s also one of the most influential and even people with little knowledge of art can recognise a Henry Moore sculpture.
His works can be found in public parks, civic spaces and even outside London King’s Cross railway station. His abstract figures are some of the most recognisable sculptures in Britain.
But who was Henry Moore the man and how did he become so universally popular?
Henry Moore was the son of a coal miner who wanted his children to better themselves. His parents didn’t approve of his early passion for modelling clay and carving wood which they thought were low-paid craft skills.
Imagine if they could have looked ahead 30 years and seen Moore become one of Britain’s wealthiest artists. Not bad for the son of a miner.
After a stint in the army during the First World War, Moore applied for a place at Leeds School of Art where he met Barbara Hepworth, who was also to become a world-class British sculptor.
She was born a few miles down the road from him in Wakefield – and they were to develop a friendship that lasted many years.
Perhaps it’s something about Yorkshire’s landscapes that inspired both of them to produce such innovative and interesting sculptures which often drew heavily on the environment.
Both Moore and Hepworth were hugely influenced by modern sculptors like Brancusi, Gaudier-Brzeska and Epstein who rejected conventional sculpture. Both experimented with shapes and forms, bringing the landscapes around them to life.
Henry Moore’s undulating, reclining figures have been likened to the landscape and hills of Yorkshire. This is why they look so fantastic in the grounds of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park which provides the perfect backdrop to them.
Some of Henry Moore’s most popular works are his trademark abstract human figures, often a mother-and-child twosome or a reclining woman.
There are plenty of them on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park but the piece in the photo above is one of my favourites with its ever-changing lines and sinuous shapes.
I also love Moore’s hollow spaces which are another characteristic of his sculptures. There’s endless fun to be had peering through these and making sense of the changing spaces and forms.
Art in the countryside
‘Back to a Land’ explores Henry Moore’s radical notion of placing sculpture in the landscape, something which had a huge impact on British artists and sculptors.
Moore was committed to showing his work in the open air. From the 1970s he showed many of his sculptures in the rolling hills of the former deer park at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in its early days.
Today it’s fun to discover his sculptures in the open air surrounded by sheep. I was amused to see the young lambs trying to clamber over the pieces and looking at them with puzzled frowns!
Henry Moore never did anything by halves and there’s a real ‘wow’ factor in the large,monumental pieces which are scattered around the extensive park grounds.
Sculptures such as ‘Large Two Forms’ (1966–69) and ‘Large Reclining Figure’ (1984) benefit enormously from being displayed against the park’s historic vistas with sweeping skies above (pictured below).
Although created in the 1960s, 70s and 80s these works are still hugely impressive and have survived the ravages of time and artistic taste surprisingly well.
What I love most about Moore’s open air sculptures is that they are always changing depending on the weather, the season and different skies. The light bounces off them to create shifting forms and shadows – as seen in the ‘Glenkiln Cross’ and ‘Upright Motive’ pieces.
They look like iconic monuments in the landscape and remind me of large prehistoric stones and ancient circles like those at Stonehenge. It’s perhaps no surprise that Moore was obsessed with sketching Stonehenge in his notebooks when he was a young artist.
Even the sheep who roam freely around the country park have made Moore’s work part of their domain as they rub up against the pieces!
When he was alive, Moore loved drawing these animals in his sketch book, capturing their characterful expressions. These are some of his figurative, non-abstract pieces of work.
The great (arty) outdoors
Henry Moore at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a perfect fusion of art and landscape.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is one of the very few spaces in the UK where you can properly show art on a large-scale, both indoors and outdoors.
This blockbuster show with more than 120 indoor and outdoor works by Henry Moore is a spectacular event that shouldn’t be missed. Quite simply, it’s the best exhibition of Henry Moore’s works that I’ve seen.
This showcase of three decades of Moore’s work is a great introduction to anyone who doesn’t know much about his work whilst passionate fans will also learn something new.
From early experiments with carving onto stone to Henry Moore’s carved marble and larger-scale abstract cast bronze sculptures, you can follow the progression and development of the great man’s artistic vision.
This is art with a visionary feeling – and it’s one show that shouldn’t be missed this year. Take an artistic walk in the park!
Tammy Tour Guide – Henry Moore & Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is located at West Bretton near Wakefield in Yorkshire (off junction 38 of the M1). Follow the tourist signposts – you can’t miss it. There is also a bus service from Wakefield and Barnsley direct to the sculpture park.
The grounds and galleries are open 10.00–17.00 daily with the main grounds staying open till 18:00. Allow plenty of time. If you’ve never visited before, why not make a day of it – take a picnic (or eat in the lovely cafe or restaurant).
The Henry Moore exhibition runs until 9 September 2015. Admission is free but there’s a charge for parking, if you travel by car. Travel directions can be found here
The park is also home to an impressive selection of exhibits by other international artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Antony Gormley, David Nash, Andy Goldsworthy, Sol LeWitt, Anthony Caro and many more well-known names.
The sculptures in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park are curated carefully so they have a relationship to each other and the landscape.
Walk across the fields (or take the mini bus) to the Longside indoor gallery which features changing exhibitions of contemporary art and sculpture from the Arts Council collection.
Don’t miss the Chapel exhibition space, the smaller galleries in the main building and the excellent shop (where you can spend a small fortune).
‘Great art for everyone’ has been Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s goal since opening to the public in 1977.
It’s also a great way to combine culture with keeping keep fit as you stroll around the 500 acres of parkland.
Art is everywhere you look. Why not walk to the edge of the estate to discover land art by Andy Goldsworthy who has built a series of enclosures and boundary walls. And don’t miss David Nash’s wooden steps, a sculpture installation that melds with the landscape.
With ever-changing temporary exhibitions, there’s always something new to see which makes repeat visits to Yorkshire Sculpture Park a worthwhile and fun experience.