Portraits of Henry Moore reveal the artist at work

Henry Moore in his studio by Gemma Levine

Henry Moore in his studio by Gemma Levine - Credit: Archant

Photographer Gemma Levine was an enthusiastic amateur when she first met Henry Moore in 1975. Now images of her mentor at work feature in a new exhibition, says Bridget Galton.

Henry Moore in his studio by

Henry Moore in his studio by - Credit: Archant

Gemma Levine believes it was her shyness and inexperience led her to make a connection with artist Henry Moore.

That and the fact that she was so unobtrusive when taking photographs of him at work, he forgot she was there.

Her photographs feature in an exhibition of previously unseen work by Moore at Osborne Samuel Gallery this month.

Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings centres on the personal collection of Moore’s sister Elizabeth Howarth, including a touching cast of her son Peter as a baby.

“I wrote Henry Moore a letter saying how I would love to meet him and to my amazement I got a phone call to say he had read it with interest and would I like to visit,” says Levine, who was born in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

That was 1975 and she was a mother-of-three from St John’s Wood with an amateur interest in photography.

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Armed with an instamatic, she travelled to Moore’s Hertfordshire home and took some photos.

At their next meeting, he showed her a six-foot elm log in the grounds and said: “in two years this will be a reclining figure.”

That led to her working the first of three books about Moore, and a friendship that would last until the artist’s death in 1986.

“Charting the progress from raw material to finished sculpture was for people - like me - who have no idea how you create an incredible masterpiece from a simple bark of elm. Moore agreed as long as I kept it simple, he was always keen on everything being simple

“I wasn’t a photographer, but my whole career started from that book. I was very shy and quiet, he didn’t know I was there half the time.”

In return Moore nurtured Levine’s fledgling talent.

“He was my mentor, he took me through the woods taught me to open my eyes, made me look at branches and trees and learn about three dimensional form. I didn’t bombard him with questions, that would have irritated him. He was very much the professional. I got on very well with him.

“He always called me GemmaLevine all one word, until the end of his life when he was very ill. His bed was in the main living room, I sat on the floor, he held my hand and called me Gemma.”

Levine doesn’t believe she would have gone on to be a portrait photographer of politicians, actors and public figures were it not for Moore.

“I started photographing people and faces and would look at them in a way I wouldn’t before.”

Levine’s subjects range from Mrs Thatcher, an image of Princess Diana chosen by the Palace as the official photograph of 1995, a book of famous theatre folk, and a photograph of Tony Blair from 1994 now in the National Portrait Gallery.

“I was always very quick, if you take too much time you see boredom come on their faces. I relaxed them with music in the background, a drink, a gentle atmosphere. I never had a tripod, I walked around them so I could see where the light and shade fell. The whole thing was done in 20 minutes. The only one I kept longer was John Gielgud because I loved talking to him and Nigel Hawthorne - we became great friends.

“Diana was perfection, so easy to photograph, she knew how to sit, turn her head you didn’t have to walk around her it was all done for me.”

Post breast cancer, lymphoedema means Levine can no longer hold her beloved Leica so she uses an iPad.

“I am a people person. I have an eye for faces and I feel people, what they are like. It’s an inner thing.”

Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings includes two early academic drawings from his teenage years as a student in Leeds, early carvings such as an ironstone head from 1930, Madonna and Child and Family Group from the 40s, drawings from the Shelter Sketchbooks and early lithographs.

Osborne Samuel 23a Bruton St, Mayfair May 22 until June 27.