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Hyde Park London Gems: The Arch by Henry Moore

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

The Arch is a large Roman travertine sculpture made by the British artist Henry Moore. Placed in Hyde Park, London, its monumentality, along the near-abstract forms epitomizes Moore's rejection of classical naturalism.


In 1978, the artist’s eightieth-birthday exhibition took place nearby the Serpentine Gallery in London, and with this occasion, several large artworks had been located around Kensington Gardens. Two years after, there was a specific request for this sculpture to be left there indefinitely. Since Moore liked the natural setting and how the arch was reflecting into the water from across the lake, he agreed to eventually donate it to Hyde Park.


The version exhibited was a fibreglass cast originally made for Moore’s show in Florence (1972) and installed on the roof of the Forte de Belvedere to overlook the skyline of the Renaissance city to announce its organic autonomy yet to instill a sense of the artwork being shaped by the passage of time.

The Arch by Henry Moore with the Kensington Palace in the far end and an Egyptian goose atop.
"The Arch" by Henry Moore with the Kensington Palace in the far end and an Egyptian goose atop.

In order for the Arch to become a permanent sculpture in Kensington Gardens, Moore spent nearly two years recreating the six-metre sculpture from 37 tonnes of longer-lasting travertine marble sourced from a quarry in northern Italy. Threatened by structural instability, in 1996 the Arch dismantled, fully restored, and reinstalled in its original “home” at Kensington Gardens in 2012.


The initial inspiration sparked from a fragment of bone to become, gradually a culmination of his thoughts on the body as architecture. Moore was fascinated by bones - “the bone is the inner structure of all living form.”* With this amorphous work, he strived to express a kind of similar vital force, energy, and strength that bursts from inside out.


In 1962-63, Moore created a smaller, two-metres high version of this piece, named “Large Torso,” challenging the viewer to see the sculpture as a hollow human torso, outlined by a shoulder-like structure. The Museum of Modern Art’s catalogue entry for this replica states: “the Arch evokes a natural form—perhaps an arch of wind-smoothed rock. Having the word “Arch” in the work’s title also forces viewers to observe the central vacancy. Stripping the skeleton of flesh, and melding it with the landscape, Moore gives his work the sense of having been shaped by the passage of time."


Thirty years earlier, he had sketched a strikingly similar structure in Ideas for Sculpture: Transformation of Bones 1932 (pictured below) as a part of the “Transformation Drawings” series where he explored the transformation of bone to body.

Henry Moore, Ideas for Sculpture: Transformation of Bones (1932) Photo source: catalogue.henry-moore.org
Henry Moore, Ideas for Sculpture: Transformation of Bones (1932) Photo source: catalogue.henry-moore.org

After a visit to Stonehenge in 1921, Moore fantasized about sculpting pieces that could almost be inhabitable. He acknowledged the arch's association with naturally occurring structures such as caves, sea arches, and even the triumphal arches of past architecture.


Standing at 6.10 metres high, The Arch is, without exaggeration, one of the most dramatic Henry Moore sculptures in the open air. Two other casts made in bronze stand in a Library Plaza in Columbus, Indiana, and Hiroshima, as an emblem of its indomitable essence.


* Moore quoted in Warren Forma, Five British Sculptors: Work and Talk, Grossman, New York, 1964, pp. 59, 63.


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