Henry Moore Studios and Gardens – The perfect way to spend an afternoon

A couple of months ago Ellie & I visited the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, the  workplace and family home of world-famous 20th century sculptor Henry Moore. The vast estate stretches over 70 acres of land near Stansted Airport, about 2h20m (sic!) by public transport, or half that by car, from London. Spread all over the fields and gardens are more than 20 of the big man’s monumental sculptures.


While visitors are not permitted to enter the main building, you can have a close look at the six different studio spaces. One is for maquettes, another one for carving, one for etching, one for drawing, and so on. A lovely, perfectly restored 16th century barn is the only place in the world to see Moore’s unique tapestries.



At the moment, one of the larger side buildings is showing Edmund de Waal’s small exhibition This Living Hand. It is intended to explore the role of touch in Moore’s sculpture. You are encouraged to touch the sculptures.

I always thought people touch the bigger sculptures anyway, if they please. So being specifically encouraged to touch certain sculptures feels arbitrary and perhaps silly. Equally, I didn’t quite get the point why this was the only place on the premises where you were not allowed to take pics. Is it in case visitors should descend into touching orgies with the sculptures and both the visitors’ and the sculptures’ privacy should be protected in these intimate moments?



We took our time and spent around two hours wandering the gardens and fields. In particular the first and main garden is rather beautiful. 5 or 6 monumental sculptures are spread all over the lawn amidst lavish vegetation. This football-field-sized area exudes tranquillity, it’s mesmerizing.


I have always liked the sculptures of Henry Spencer Moore OM CH FBA (1898 – 1986), even as a child. A lot. That said, I’ve never loved his art. I think it’s because of my outdated and outright terrible conviction that money corrupts (not normal people money, filthy rich people money). My conviction, that true art comes not necessarily with a lot, but at least with a little bit of pain, demonic passion, pushing your limits, taking risks.


In my mind Moore was always this ultra-rich guy who had found his niche early on and just started printing money, big time, taking no risks at all. Government-commission after government-commission.


Our visit to the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens did change my perceptions to some extent. True, he made millions very early in his career, and soon tens of millions. True, he made sure he had the best tax advisors setting up efficient structures for him. Yes, the charity he registered has the purpose of ‘encouraging public appreciation of the visual arts, and in particular the works of Henry Moore.’ Works, Henry Moore kept on selling for millions.



On the other hand, he’s not one of those guys that did the usual Eton-Oxford-Get-Rich thingy. His Irish father had started out as a coal miner in the back then bleak north of England, gradually working his way up to become one of the mine’s under-managers. Moore was the seventh of eight children. His family often struggled to make ends meet during the first few years of his life.


Luckily, Moore’s father was determined to get the children a good education, so that they would never have to work in a coal mine. He tried his best to get the kids a solid grounding. However, he never wanted his son to become a sculptor. Art, to Moore’s father, was manual labour, menial work with no career prospects. Nonetheless, Moore started carving in wood and modelling in clay during his elementary school days.


During his time at Castleford Secondary School, his talent was recognised and he was commissioned to carve a plaque commemorating the boys from his school who had gone to fight in WWI. After graduating and just a few months training, Moore became a teacher at his school at age 17. A year later he volunteered to go to war and became the youngest man in the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles regiment.


In a 1917 gas attack he was severely injured. After recovering in hospital he became an army training instructor. He later recalled, “for me the war passed in a romantic haze of trying to be a hero.” As soon as he was able to collect his thoughts, he became a life-long pacifist. What an amazing young man he must have been.


Me being evil me, I had also in the past doubted Moore’s genuine growth as an artist. Quite often his most famous sculptures to me had seemed like they were simply those chubby, voluptuous female figures Picasso had painted, put in bronze or carved in marble or wood. Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1936, for example, carved in elmwood, has been compared by many with Picasso’s somewhat similar-looking La Source from 15 years earlier.


Talking with the knowledgeable and clearly very enthusiastic wardens and doing my own research for this post, I realised that many of the Picasso works I had wrongly seen as inspiration for Moore’s art, had actually been created after 1936. I also hadn’t known about Moore’s inspiration from pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture, in particular from Chacmool.

These are sculptures of reclining figures. The body of a slain enemy warrior, with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, is resting on its elbows and carrying sacrificial offerings in a bowl upon its stomach.


We will definitely visit Henry Moore Studios and Gardens again. 5 out of 5 in our book.

Looking for more artsy-fartsy stuff? Feel welcome to eyeball our posts about the immersive experience ‘Van Gogh Alive’, Frieze London 2021, Chihuly in Kew Gardens, JR Chronicles at Saatchi, Alice, Curiouser and Curiouser at the V&A, or the Ryoji Ikeda Exhibition at 180 The Strand. I’ve also blogged about my motocross taster course, the time Ellie & I went caving, and our hike around Panshanger Park and Hertford Castle.

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  1. I have never heard of the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens, therefore thank you for educating me. My knowledge of famous sculptors is quite limited and although I love visiting places like this and can appreciate the beauty and hard work of creating such incredible sculptures, I often don’t get what the pieces are all about. Have you guys ever visited the sculpture park and gardens here in Dorset called “Sculpture by the Lake”? Exhibiting various different artists? Definitely worth a visit if you come to Dorset.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Gilda. Oh.. Ellie & I often wonder what the artist is trying to say or do, too, haha… Also.. “Sculpture by the Lake” is a great insider tip. We’ve never heard of it, but are now putting it on our list. Watched the youtube videos of the venue operators and boy they’ve really got something going there.

  2. Your blog stories come from so many different angles and interests. I mean that as a compliment you are great at weaving a story around photos.

  3. I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t heard of Henry Moore so read this post with interest. His work reminds me also of Picasso. I’d definitely like to visit the Henry Moore Studios and view the sculptures and beautiful gardens though.

    1. Oh there’s definitely no shame in not knowing Henry Moore, Wendy. 🙂 🙂 🙂 I just checked, there’s only one of his sculptures in Perth, hidden in a museum. Here in and around London we’ve got more than 40 of his sculptures, including more than 10 within 15 minutes’ walking distance from our flat. I’m glad you say you’d like to visit the Studios. I presume you’ll get a chance when you visit family and friends in Old Blighty.

  4. I actually did not know there was a large studio and gardens that showcased the work of Henry Moore. We have seen his statues in many places around the world. But it would be interesting to see such a large display. Fascinating that you were encouraged to touch some sculptures. Usually that is so wrong!

    1. Oops.. is it wrong..? I thought with the monumental bronze statues that are placed outdoors no one has any complaints if someone touches them.. my bad haha.. after all our blog is called Barbarians and not Sophisticated Folk or sth. Just kidding, Linda. Glad you enjoyed the read and hope you get to see the Studios and Gardens next time you’re in London. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. I love how you started with one (rather strong!) opinion, then took us down an alternate road to give us a more nuanced view of the artist and his work. Would definitely love to visit!

    1. Thank you, Lynn… oh.. you should’ve read the first few versions of this blog post haha… they were much more ferocious.. Moore really grew on me as an artist, but even more so as a human, while researching for this post. Lived frugally all his life (apart from the massive estate). It also impressed me very much how he volunteered for the army, got injured badly, then turned pacifist. Pretty cool guy after all.

  6. Can’t say I know anything about Henry Moore but these gardens seem like a great way to appreciate his sculptures and also be outside at the same time. Sounds like a great activity!

    1. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment, Becky. Yes, this was a fun and relaxing day out for Ellie & me. Hope you get to visit when you’re in town. 🙂

  7. We have visited the park and really enjoyed our time there – particularly visiting the studios and seeing the inspirations for the sculptures, particularly from nature. But what was lovely about this post was understanding more about Moore himself as well as his development as an artist – and also to learn about your perceptions of his works. Like you, we would very much like to return to this wonderful sculpture garden. We also enjoyed the Gibberd Garden, another sculpture park, which isn’t too far away.

    1. I’ll look that Gibberd Garden up, Mitch, thanks for the advice. Yes, beautiful gardens, the Moore ones. Ellie & I had such a fabulous time out there. 🙂

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