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Knife Edge Two Piece Sculpture

A Grade II* Listed Building in City of Westminster, Westminster

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Latitude: 51.498 / 51°29'52"N

Longitude: -0.126 / 0°7'33"W

OS Eastings: 530177

OS Northings: 179334

OS Grid: TQ301793

Mapcode National: GBR HK.V6

Mapcode Global: VHGQZ.RMQ0

Plus Code: 9C3XFVXF+5H

Entry Name: Knife Edge Two Piece Sculpture

Listing Date: 19 January 2016

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1430343

Location: St. James's, Westminster, London, SW1P

County: Westminster

Electoral Ward/Division: St James's

Built-Up Area: City of Westminster

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Matthew Westminster

Church of England Diocese: London

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Knife Edge Two Piece sculpture, executed 1962-64, erected 1967, by Henry Moore.


Knife Edge Two Piece sculpture, executed 1962-64, erected 1967, by Henry Moore.

MATERIALS: the sculpture is cast in bronze and sits upon a rectangular concrete pedestal faced in granite.

DESCRIPTION: a fully abstract work consisting of two curvaceous forms separated by a narrow diagonal gap. c2.75m high and 3.6m long, on a 70cm high pedestal inscribed: ‘KNIFE EDGE BY HENRY MOORE / PRESENTED TO THE NATION BY / THE CONTEMPORARY ART / SOCIETY AND THE SCULPTOR 1967’.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 18/05/2016


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

Henry Moore (1898–1986) is widely recognised as one of the most important English sculptors of the C20. He was born in Yorkshire and attended Castleford Grammar School, where he reluctantly taught from 1916, before serving in the Army between 1917 and 1919. His artistic education began at Leeds School of Art, before he achieved his ambition of a place at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, in 1921. He went via Paris to Italy on a travelling scholarship in the mid-1920s, and between 1925 and 1932 taught at the RCA, and then at the Chelsea School of Art from 1932 to 1939. His first solo show was in 1928, and he had his first public commission the same year - a relief for Holden’s Underground Building, St James’s. He was prolific in the 1930s, exhibiting at home and abroad, and during the Second World War won great acclaim for his drawings of people sheltering in the London underground. His first major foreign retrospective was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1946. Following bomb damage in the war, Moore and his wife moved from Hampstead to Perry Green, Hertfordshire, where he remained for the rest of his life. Philanthropic in his outlook, Moore established a charitable foundation in 1977 to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts; he bequeathed his estate at Perry Green to the foundation prior to his death, and donated hundreds of works to galleries and institutions internationally.

'Knife Edge Two Piece' is the first non-architectural Moore sculpture to be erected in central London. The sculpture was a gift to the nation by the Contemporary Art Society and Moore. The Society’s offer of a ‘substantial work’, understood to be by Moore, would depend on the site offered by the Ministry of Works. The Abingdon Road Gardens were laid out in 1963-64 on the roof of the subterranean car park. Moore was keen on the prospect of the site, particularly for its proximity with Rodin’s 'Burghers of Calais'. 'Knife Edge Two Piece' is the second cast of an edition of three, the first of which was sold to Nelson Rockerfeller, and the third was erected in the Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver. A fourth casting was retained by the artist and remains at Perry Green.

The unveiling took place on 1 November 1967, and was attended by the Minister for the Arts, Jennie Lee, the Minister of Works, Robert Mellish and Sir Kenneth Clark. The piece was initially positioned c15m to the south of where it now stands, and was moved, with Moore’s approval, turned around, and raised onto the granite-faced pedestal in 1970. The sculpture was restored in 2013.

Reasons for Listing

Knife Edge Two Piece, executed 1962-64, erected 1967, by Henry Moore, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Aesthetic quality: a high-quality, fully-abstract piece consisting of bold, voluptuous, interlocking forms, monumentalised in bronze;
* Historic interest: by one of the most highly-regarded and influential sculptors of the C20, and representative of the abstract form his work took in the latter half of his career;
* Group value: for its place in an architecturally and historically rich area with a tradition of display of public sculpture and memorials, with numerous highly graded listed structures.

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