Henry Moore Studios & Gardens Location: Perry Green, Herts SG10 6EE [map] Open: 11am - 5pm (closed Mon & Tue, but open Bank Holidays) (closed Nov-Mar) Admission: £12.70 (Art Pass holders 25% off) Five word summary: a man and his sculptures Website:henry-moore.org/visit/henry-moore-studios-gardens Time to set aside: at least half a day
Who was Henry Moore? A sculptor. Famous for his large works, especially of human figures and lumps with holes. Henry was born in 1898 and fought in WW1. He used his ex-serviceman's grant to go to art school. His drawings of passengers sheltering in the Underground during the Blitz brought him to a global audience. His sculptures and castings became widely sought after and he became exceptionally rich. In his later life he was the UK's highest-contributing taxpayer. He died in 1986.
Where's Perry Green? I couldn't place it either. It's a Hertfordshirehamlet north of Harlow and southwest of Bishop's Stortford. You cannot get a bus there. I walked in from Sawbridgeworth station which took an hour and a half. Almost all visitors arrive by car.
Why Perry Green? In September 1940 Henry's Hampstead street was bombed, so he and his wife went to stay with friends in Hertfordshire, found a farmhouse to rent, bought it, enlarged it, and stayed there for the rest of their lives. Villagers were not best pleased when he bought the village post office and turned it into a studio. Perry Green became a home, a place of work and an outdoor showcase for his larger sculptures.
What's to see?
i) Over 20 large sculptures: These vary each year because some works go travelling to other exhibitions around the country. Several are in Norfolk at the moment. But there are still plenty to see, admire and touch at Perry Green, including such classics as Family Group, Seated Woman and Goslar Warrior. Most of these are on the Sculpture Lawn or in Pear Tree Paddock, but the free map allows you to go orienteering in search of the better hidden. Taking selfies beside one of Henry's pinhole heads is apparently a thing.
ii) His home: The Moores lived in an extended Tudor farmhouse called Hoglands, its contents preserved after Henry's wife died in 1989. It's visitable by guided tour only, which costs extra, but limited to eight people so if you arrive too late in the day there may be no spaces left. Inside is amazing, partly as a time capsule but also as a small house owned by a very rich man. A Picasso hangs in the kitchen beside the sink. A Rodin figurine sits amid the bric-a-brac in the living room. A bottle of 1957 Talisker whisky awaits on the sideboard. A Polynesian fertility god and a couple of Impressionist paintings grace the hallway. Every surface in the lounge is covered with very expensive knick-knacks. A 4th century Persian marble lynx prowls at the end of the sofa. The tour guide brings the place properly to life, explaining backstory after backstory, but what an ostentatiously humble hideaway Hoglands is.
iii) Four studios: Here you can find hundreds of maquettes for Henry's works, most in plaster, a few later ones in polystyrene. He employed a whole coterie of assistants who did the sculpting based on these models, sometimes under supervision and sometimes not. Each studio is laid out authentically as it would have been in the 1980s, always with a transistor radio, plus a variety of unpleasantly sharp tools and in one sad case a figure who never got her arms because Henry was too unwell before his death.
iv) An exhibition hall: Every year this two-storey gallery hosts a different exhibition. This year it's Henry's drawings, showcased chronologically. It's fascinating watching his interest in abstract figures slowly kick in around the end of the 1920s, and to see his return to real life drawing in the 1980s when he was too ill to sculpt any more.
v) His tapestries: In 1980 eight of Henry's drawings were converted into full length tapestries by a crack team at West Dean College, to dramatic effect, and these can be seen inside The Aisled Barn (unless it's been hired for a wedding, so check before you go).
vi) Sheep: When they say the site has 70 acres of gardens, what they don't mention is that the majority of this is three large fields grazed by sheep. Two of these have a single huge sculpture at one end, the middle one doesn't. The setting's impressive, but too much of a hike for some older visitors. One of the reasons those stepping inside Hoglands are asked to wear plastic overshoes is that they might just have been walking through the sheep fields.
How's the food and drink? The on-site cafe does tea and cakes plus light meals. My flapjack was huge. For anything more substantial cross the road to The Hoops, Henry Moore's local, which serves pub grub and local ales.
Is it worth visiting? I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the tour round the house, but with all that sweaty hiking to and from the station I have never got home and slumped into a bath more gratefully.
How much has my Art Pass saved me so far this year? £129.85