Conservation of Henry Moore sculpture to begin

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Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture ‘Knife Edge Two Piece’ (1962-5)

11 February 2013

Conservation of Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture ‘Knife Edge Two Piece’ (1962-5) is to begin on 16 February 2013 on Abingdon Street Gardens. Over an eight week period the much needed conservation work will restore the historic piece to its original state.

Chosen by Henry Moore to be sited in Abingdon Street Gardens, Knife Edge Two Piece was gifted to the Nation in 1967 on behalf of Moore and the Contemporary Art Society. However, no formal arrangements were ever made for its ownership or care, and over time the sculpture has fallen into a state of disrepair.

There is no record of any conservation work having ever taken place and for many years its ownership was in dispute. In 2011, the House of Commons agreed to take on ownership and duty of care for the historic piece, bringing the work into the Parliamentary Art Collection.  As part of this responsibility, conservation of the sculpture is required to prevent further deterioration and damage and to ensure that Knife Edge Two Piece is preserved for future generations.

Knife Edge Two Piece, Henry Moore

On 30 September 1965 Whitney Straight CBE, MC, DFC, Chairman of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) wrote to Charles Pannell MP at the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works with the news that the CAS were ‘considering the possibility of ‘making a gift of a substantial work of art to be erected at some suitable site in London’.   

Henry Moore was identified as the artist they were considering, and a meeting to discuss their proposal was requested. Having visited Abingdon Street Gardens a number of times, Moore chose the site for his sculpture Knife Edge Two Piece.

"When I was offered the site near the House of Lords for the ‘Two-Piece Knife Edge’ sculpture, I liked the place so much that I didn’t bother to go and see an alternative site in Hyde Park. I remembered as a young student a sculpture called ‘Rima’ by Epstein, a memorial to the poet W.H. Hudson… Six years ago I couldn’t find it when I wanted to show it to a foreigner, which proves how easily one lonely sculpture can be lost in a large park. The House of Lords site is quite different. It is next to a path where people walk and it has a few seats where they can sit and contemplate it, unlike the placing of the very fine equestrian statue of Charles the First, in Trafalgar Square, which, in order to look at closely and appreciate in detail, you have to risk your life in crossing a maze of traffic.” (Henry Moore 1964) . 

This sculpture had been cast in 1962 and was the second cast of the work, which was originally inspired by the lightness and strength of bone fragment. After some discussion between the Contemporary Art Society and the then Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, an installation date was agreed and the Knife Edge Two Piece was unveiled on 1 November 1967.

Henry Moore (1898 – 1986), was one of Britain’s most renowned sculptors. Perhaps best known for his large scale bronze sculptures, his work reached international acclaim during his life and was he awarded numerous honours including Companion of Honour (1955) and the Order or Merit (1963). In 1977 he established The Henry Moore Foundation to encourage public appreciation of visual arts.

The conservation process

The lack of maintenance has resulted in the protective lacquer degrading and exposing the surface of the sculpture to the elements. This has caused oxidation of the bronze metal to occur. The patination has deteriorated and is no longer as Henry Moore intended, while years of graffiti scratched into the surface has resulted in further corrosion.

The conservation will remove the remnants of the protective lacquer and surface dirt, cleaning the surface of corrosion and oxidation so that it is taken back to the bare metal.  Graffiti and pitting will be very carefully removed and then the sculpture will be repatinated to return it to its original golden brown colour. Finally, it will be waxed to provide a protective weatherproof surface, protecting it from future damage.

All the conservation work will be undertaken by Rupert Harris Conservation who will work in consultation with The Henry Moore Foundation.

Follow the conservation process by visiting UK Parliament’s Flickr.  

  • Image: Parliamentary copyright