Henry Moore, the British artist widely regarded as the greatest sculptor to emerge after World War II, died peacefully yesterday at the age of 88 at his home, "Hoglands," at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, near London.
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed, but Mr. Moore had been in frail health for several years. Suffering from arthritis and diabetes, he was confined to a wheelchair and cared for by a nurse.
In his youth in the 1930s, Mr. Moore's work was inventive and controversial. His use of biomorphic "kidney-shaped" forms suggesting human figures with holes drilled through them seemed grotesque and became the prototype for cartoons satirizing "modern art."
Meanwhile, critics and fellow artists held Mr. Moore in the highest esteem, regarding him as a protean giant who had single-handedly rescued 20th century sculpture from mediocrity in much the same way that Auguste Rodin had revitalized the form in the 19th century. (Like Rodin, Mr. Moore was so popular in the United States that insiders joked about which of them was the greatest "American" sculptor.)
Mr. Moore, like other pioneer artists with long and productive careers, eventually became such a pillar of the establishment that the avant-garde came to regard him as an irrelevant maker of gigantic institutional "hood ornaments" for corporate plazas and entrances to cultural cathedrals. Dozens of public commissions were accorded Mr. Moore, who was a tireless worker even as his health began to fade in his 70s.
Coincidentally, Mr. Moore's death came as art lovers in Seattle fought to prevent one of his works, an eight-ton bronze titled "Vertebrae," from being taken out of a downtown plaza, dismantled and shipped to Japan.
The work, located for 15 years in a downtown Seattle plaza, was to have been taken apart and prepared for shipment Saturday but publicity about the sale created such a furor that city officials managed to temporarily delay the plan by insisting the moving company obtain a demolition permit.
Like the Seattle piece, Mr. Moore's best-known works are massive outdoor sculptures. They include a bronze figure 30 feet wide and 16 feet tall in the reflecting pool at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the immense, rather over-scaled "Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece" punctuating the facade of the National Gallery's East Building in Washington.
Mr. Moore presided over the installation of the 15-ton bronze work in 1978. In addition, more than a dozen sculptures by Mr. Moore are in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden across the Mall. The Hirshhorn has more than 75 works by him, including sculptures, etchings, lithographs and drawings, the largest body of his work in this country.
Both praise and criticism of Mr. Moore seem to perch on common themes that were the basis of his undeniable genius: continuity, earthiness, the virtues of modesty and hard work. (The artist routinely refused to be knighted.)
Henry Spencer Moore was born July 30, 1898, in the small town of Castleford. The son of a coal miner, he would grow to make art that appeared dredged from the primal substrata of the human subconscious.
He was the seventh of eight children and some of his most renowned work depicted couples, atavistic and regal, with their children.
When his younger sister died, his parents indulged him as the youngest in the family. In later years he acknowledged doting on his mother, Mary, and diagnosed himself as having a "mother complex."
His art was full of archetypes but none was more persistent or predominant than that of the female figure, especially in a reclining pose. A Moore trademark, the theme was actually inspired by the pre-Columbian rain god "Chacmool" from the Toltec-Mayan tradition, but Mr. Moore transformed the prototype. His figures, with their looping limbs and open spaces suggest roots, caves and hills and fuse the female image into a true Earth Mother figure.
Mr. Moore's father had a flinty determination to see that his children escaped the maw of the mine. To that end, young Henry was enrolled to train as a teacher. But the son matched his father's determination and also pursued the study of sculpture.
That career was interrupted for two years by World War I. Mr. Moore fought as a private in France, but he was gassed in the Battle of Cambrai and discharged in 1919. The gas affected his voice the rest of his life.
Back to teaching, travel and making his own art, Mr. Moore found a wide variety of influences. He loved Renaissance humanism, Michelangelo's marble carving and heroic scale. Eventually he established an Italian summer home at Forti di Marmi near the quarry at Carrara.
He was fascinated by the shapes of organic objects, from shells to bones, and by huge outcroppings of rocks. But the thing that clearly gave the young artist a way of putting it all together was his discovery, along with the rest of the art world, of primitive tribal art.
While Picasso had mined primitive art to fuel his mythic ferocity and Matisse had found elegant hedonism there, Mr. Moore would use it as a foundation for his love of duration and basic tradition.
Mr. Moore married a fellow art student, the Russian-born Irina Radetzky, in 1929.
The artist was a good family man, adoring his daughter, Mary, and a grandson, nicknamed Gus, who inspired the old artist to portray him in affectionate, Rembrandtesque drawings. They survive him.
Until World War II, Mr. Moore was mainly an art-world artist. Probably the single most important factor in changing that was the London blitz. During the devastating bombings Mr. Moore found himself in the underground shelters, where he drew ordinary people.
Those so-called "Shelter Drawings" marked a shift in Mr. Moore's career that was certainly reinforced by his permanent move to Much Hadham after his London studio was bombed. Thereafter he would be less formally rigorous, more humane and popular with an ever-expanding audience.
Mr. Moore's reputation emerged from the rubble of the war with that of a generation of British artists that included Francis Bacon, Barbara Hepworth and Reg Butler and, on the continent, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet. They formed the core of a new kind of expressionist figurative art that was seen to reflect both the isolation of existential postwar man and a new humanism.
Mr. Moore's version of that sometimes-agonized art was one of consolation and celebration.
In a recent interview, he said, "I would like my work to be thought of as a celebration of life and nature."