The current Henry Moore : Sharing Form exhibition at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery at Bruton, Somerset, is a meditation upon Moore’s early attraction for and inspiration by the monolithic structures at Stonehenge. His daughter Mary is curating the exhibition and was very much present in the build up to the opening, providing information about her father’s life and artistic values during a private party before the opening. She recounted that Lee Miller, Peggy Guggenheim, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko and Lauren Bacall were among the guests she remembered coming round for tea during her teenage years. She hoped to recreate that sense of awe in the Somerset show, where visitors are able to wander among bronze, marble and plaster works displayed to dramatic effect across five galleries and outdoors.
More of her comments can be read below, between photographs of his sculptures.
I was so moved by the exhibition I returned several days later to view it again, and plan to return again several more times. In an effort to conjoin as much as possible with Moore’s sense of inspiration from the immense form and structures of antiquities, I decided to journey on to Somerset’s largest stone circle Stanton Drew, and indeed the 3rd largest in the UK, to see what inspiration I could draw from the stones directly following the second visit. Those photographs, undertaken just preceding and after sunset, are below.
One unexpected pleasure of the exhibition is a collection of wonderful drawings of the Stonehenge trilithons by Moore which he later compiled into an album printed in 1974. Further information, and a collection of the drawings, can be found here.
“I suppose I did have this unbelievably unconventional upbringing, with all these extraordinary people just rolling up to the house – but to me, it seemed very normal,” reflects Mary Moore, who grew up in Hertfordshire with her father, the great British sculptor Henry Moore, and his Russian wife, Irina Radetsky. “We were this tiny tribe – a threesome – and art was our religion.”
“He first visited it in 1921, and it made a lasting impression on him. He arrived by moonlight, which tends to make things look larger, so it must have seemed enormous. The whole point about sculpture is that you don’t just see it from a distance – it’s a confrontational thing where you and the object come together wordlessly, and you have a kind of subliminal, unspoken reaction that comes from your visual and emotional intelligence, rather than your intellect,”
“Culturally and geographically, his working practice did away with every boundary, every border, connecting him with Romanesque architects and mediaeval stonemasons, with craftspeople across the centuries”
The remarkable thing about my father was the way he could connect with his own subconscious and everyone else’s, and somehow channel that into his drawing and sculpture,” observes Moore. “There are certain forms – the reclining figure, the mother and child – that have meaning to all societies across the globe, and he was sensitive enough to plug into those.”
“That when you come out the other side, your world is changed. Because every time you look at a rock, or a tree, or a sculpture, you bring more insight to bear – it flexes a muscle that lots of us don’t feel we have the time to use… but that I,” she adds thoughtfully, “have been flexing all my life.”
Stanton Drew is a small village within Chew Valley in Somerset, England, situated north of the Mendip Hills, 8 miles south of Bristol. Just outside the village are the prehistoric Stanton Drew stone circles. The largest of these, the Great Circle, is a henge monument and the second largest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury. The stone circle is 113 m in diameter and probably consisted of 30 stones, of which 27 survive today.
The date of construction is not known, but is thought to be between 3000 and 2000 BCE, which places it in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age. It was made a scheduled monument in 1982.
The Great Circle was surrounded by a ditch and is accompanied by smaller stone circles to the northeast and southwest. There is also a group of three stones, known as The Cove, in the garden of the local pub. Slightly further from the Great Circle is a single stone, known as Hautville’s Quoit. Some of the stones are still vertical, but the majority are now recumbent, and some are no longer present.
The stone circles have been studied since John Aubrey’s visit in 1664, and some excavations of the site were performed in the 18th century. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, geophysical surveys have confirmed the size of the stone circles and identified additional pits and postholes. The Cove has been shown to be around 1000 years older than the stone circles, and so date from 4000-3000 BCE. A variety of myths and legends about the stone circles have been recorded, including one about dancers at a celebration who have been turned to stone.
The most famous feature is the Great Circle, the second largest stone circle in Britain (after Avebury). The stone circle is 113 metres (371 ft) in diameter and probably consisted of 30 stones, of which 27 survive today. It was recorded by both John Aubrey in 1664 and William Stukeley in 1776. The Great Circle probably was surrounded by the ditch (approximately 135 metres (443 ft) outer diameter — now filled in) of a henge. The North East Circle is 30 metres (98 ft) in diameter and probably consisted of 10 or more stones, of which 8 survive today. The South West Circle is 43 metres (141 ft) in diameter, and has 12 stones surviving today. An avenue extends to the northeast of the Great Circle towards the River Chew and a second avenue meets it from the north eastern stone circle.
A (now recumbent) standing stone called Hautville’s Quoit lies across the river to the north on an alignment with the centres of the Great Circle and the southern circle. It is a large stone close to Hautville Quoit Farm, recumbent since at least the mid 17th century but assumed to have originally been upright. Described by Stukeley in 1723 as being 13 feet (4.0 m) long, it is now about half that length, Leslie Grinsell suggesting that fragments have occasionally been broken off for mending the roads. Stukeley also referred to the presence of a second stone.
In 1740 the site was surveyed and mapped by architect, freemason and antiquarian John Wood, the Elder, who noted the different stones used. He suggested the layout was based on the Pythagorean planetary system and thought it was used as the Druid’s “University”. The number and positioning of the stones according to Wood, corresponded to the Pythagorean planetary system of worlds, with three of the circles corresponding to the solar, lunar and Earth cycles. This deeply influenced his plans for a circle of 30 houses called The Circus in Bath, an ambitious architectural project completed by his son John Wood, the Younger.
When one of the stones fell in the mid 17th century, some human bones were discovered accompanied by an object described as a “round bell, like a large horse-bell”. The burial date and the purpose of the bell-like object are unknown
Geophysical work by English Heritage in 1997 revealed a surrounding ditch and nine concentric rings of postholes within the stone circle. More than four hundred pits, 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) across and at 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) intervals, stood in rings at the site. The ditch is 135 metres (443 ft) in diameter and about 7 metres (23 ft) wide. A 40 metres (130 ft) wide entrance was visible on the north east side. No surrounding bank has been identified although the site awaits excavation.
The geophysical work transformed the traditional view of Stanton Drew as being a surface monument and the Great Circle is now seen as being one of the largest and most impressive Neolithic monuments to have been built. Analogous with the circles of postholes at sites at Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and The Sanctuary, it is thought that the pits would have held posts which would have either been freestanding or lintelled as they could not have supported a roof at that size. The postholes in nine concentric rings held posts up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) in diameter indicating the use of ancient trees which were sacred to the druid.
Nearby and to the north east is a smaller ring of eight stones in the centre of which the geophysical work identified four further pits. A third ring of twelve stones, measuring 43 metres (141 ft) wide, stands to the south west.
Information regarding Stanton Drew taken from here