Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


As well as art, sculpture and tribal treasures, Henry Moore liked to collect buildings. His Hertfordshire estate, now owned and run by the Henry Moore Foundation, grew and grew over time to include barns and studios, outbuildings and cottages. But always central was Henry and Irina Moore's own house, Hoglands, which stood at the centre of a micro Moore community within green and pleasant Perry Green, near Bishop's Stortford.

Since Moore's death in 1986, the Foundation has opened much of the estate – including the sculpture gardens and exhibition spaces – to the public, as well as running the Foundation itself and the Moore archives from here. But Hoglands remained private, still owned by Moore's family, but used only occasionally. A few years ago, Hoglands was passed on to the Foundation and, after restoration, is finally opening to the public. At last, it's possible to see Henry and Irina Moore's own home, with the richly furnished rooms and pivotal study that were the focal point for the life and work of one of the most original and creative artists and sculptors of the last century.

"To see the place which was his the nerve centre, where instructions were given to his assistants, where collectors and curators would come and see him and talk to him, is very important," says Tim Llewellyn, director of the Henry Moore Foundation. "It tells you a lot about the artist that you might guess at when you are in the studios but you don't really know until you go into spaces like the big sitting room at Hoglands, which was furnished in a way that allowed Moore to speak about his work, illustrated by this extraordinarily eclectic array of objects around him, many of which held the inspiration of the works displayed outside – the found objects but also the African and South American pieces and paintings by Impressionist artists."

Henry and Irina Moore first came to Hoglands in the 1940, after their home in London was damaged in the Blitz. They knew Perry Green through friends and when they discovered Hoglands was for rent they moved in and bought the house soon afterwards. It became the Moore's family home, the most important part of their lives, where Moore did most of his work and his secretary – Mrs Tinsley – fielded calls and enquiries from all over the world.

The house itself is a timber framed medieval hall building, much adapted and changed over the centuries. The Moores added an extension in the late 1950s, holding the large sitting room – with its vivid yellow carpet – that became perhaps the most beloved room in the house, with its eclectic collections of ethnic and impressionist art, eventually including pieces by Courbet and others.

The house and adjoining studios – originally stables and a small village shop – have now been skilfully restored by local architect Kay Pilsbury, who has not only repaired the timber frame and roof, but subtly updated and improved access to the house. Having been largely untouched since the 1960s, the house needed work lasting a number of years, during which the contents – from books and Irina's needlepoint, to artworks and the African objects that the Moores began collecting in the 1930s – were carefully stored and catalogued and then returned to their original positions.

"It's so familiar when I walk back inside," says Mary Moore, Henry and Irina's daughter, who grew up in the house. "The accommodations that have had to be made for wheelchair access and things like that, which have been done very artfully, I thought I might find alarming but maybe the familiarity of the objects and the way that it's now so close to what it was makes it still seems so familiar – it's inside me."

Looking around the house and nearby studios, one is struck by the warm use of colour and the rich variety but cohesive feel of the rooms. Another is the relative modesty of Hoglands, with its small galley kitchen and modest family television room, where Moore liked to watch Wimbledon or Saturday afternoon football. The artwork that the house later contained in the 1970s and '80s – by Modigliani, Degas, Seurat and others – did not change the essential character of this warm, comfortable family home and even as the estate expanded to 70 acres, including other cottages nearby, housing Moore's small staff of assistants, Hoglands itself evolved in terms of art and furniture but remained essentially unchanged.

"My parents were very modest," says Mary Moore. "They would go to Bishop's Stortford and local shops for furniture, with a few pieces from Heal's perhaps. They went for simplicity. The antique furniture was bought by my mother when she started going to some auctions later on and she started to move some of those kinds of pieces into the house, so it developed. They did things together in terms of the interiors. When I was really small, in the 1950s, the house was mostly decorated with textiles that my father had designed. All our curtains, sofa covers, even some of my mother's dresses were made out of these textiles and my father had this extraordinary and really unexpected colour sense that lives on in me."

Visitors to Hoglands, who included not only collectors and curators but Julie Andrews through to Rostropovich, Snowdon and WH Auden, might have assumed the house was rather formal, given the rigours of Moore's working day and the amount he needed to achieve with a small staff. But for Mary, the way of life at Hoglands was very open, with family life and work fusing in one almost seamless world from which she never felt excluded.

"If you work at home, and you are a writer or sculptor, it's not like you go off to work at nine in the morning and come home at six. My father worked in his home so in a way it never ceased, except when he was doing things like watching telly or things like that. So he was always thinking about work.

"But the family was as much a part of him as the working day. I could come in the studio whenever I wanted and I would sit and draw and fiddle with clay. There was no barrier for us, which there may have been for other people, who wouldn't come into the studio. Lunch was always family time and the evenings when he would put his feet up and watch Benny Hill or something like that.Work and family life were one.

"At my seventh birthday party one of the games was my father guessing the weight of my guests and who has ever heard of a party game like that? We all took it for granted, he was always right, and it was to do with being a sculptor and knowing what bulk and form are about."

With Hoglands open from June 1st by appointment, the estate at Perry Green comes alive again, adding so much to the understanding of the personal world of a man's whose work has become so familiar and essential. To see the spaces and art and objects that Moore so loved brings us closer to the man himself than ever before.

"He was incredibly aware of how short life is and always said that one onetime was not enough for everything that he wanted to do," says Mary Moore. "He needed to be within the work machine that he had created at Hoglands to get his work done. He loved to sit in that yellow sitting room with or without guests and enjoy seeing the things he loved. There used to be a sculpture of a lynx in that room, which we now have at home.I remember seeing some of his drawings when he was infirm and could hardly see and he'd done a drawing of the lynx which must have been from his memory. That was immensely moving because you could see how much those pieces in that room meant to him."

Hoglands opens to the public on June 1st, by appointment only. The exhibition, Moore & Mythology, runs at Perry Green in the Sheep Field Barn until September 23rd. See or call 01279 843333 to book a tour.

A book, 'Hoglands: The Home of Henry and Irina Moore', will be published by Lund Humphries in June.