Perhaps equalled only by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore was most sought after in the second half of the twentieth century as a creator of monumental outdoor works. From its initial meeting in March 1968, the selection committee for Princeton University’s Putnam Collection gave priority to the search for a major bronze by the British artist. Fortuitously, Moore was coming to the United States that same year to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University, and he was invited to visit Princeton. In 1969, Oval with Points, then in maquette form, was selected unanimously by the committee from among three new sculptures. The sculpture resembles one of Moore’s favorite found objects—an elephant skull acquired in East Africa by the distinguished biologist Sir Julian Huxley and his wife, Juliette, which they had placed in their garden and ultimately gifted to Moore. Within a few short months of the installation—to the delight of the sculptor—the interior curves of the oval were visibly burnished from contact with bodies sitting on or sliding through it. The maquette that impressed Princeton’s selection committee is now in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum.
Hear the Student (y1969-128)
Hello, my name is Laura Herman and I am a member of Princeton’s class of 2018. In the fall of 2014, I took a freshman seminar titled “Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes” with professor William Barksdale Maynard. For my final project, I studied Henry Moore’s Oval with Points and the ways it interacts with its setting and community. Through my research into Moore’s photographs, drawings, and artistic philosophy, I learned that he sought to create interaction between his work and the surrounding landscape. Indeed, his figures were so integrated into their environments that Moore claimed, “There is a danger that people will confuse their love of flowers, and gardens, and visits to the park with an interest in sculpture.” Moore believed that sculpture should extend viewers’ artistic sensibilities into the world around them, enhancing their appreciation of nature as an art form. Oval with Points does just that: the undulating organic structure of the sculpture begs the campus community to interact with it; students often are seen sitting or climbing on the sculpture. One might even say that the holes in the center of the work, which is framed by nature, function as a frame for nature. Also, it seems to me that the opening in Oval with Points echoes Blair Arch, which can be seen off to the left from one side of the sculpture. In this way there are even formal parallels between the sculpture and the architectural landscape on campus.
"About two years ago, Juliette and Julian Huxley, old friends of Henry Moore, gave him an elephant skull. It was a most welcome gift and he noted with characteristic enthusiasm: ‘One finds in it all sorts of qualities that bones generally seem to have, including some parts thick and solid and other parts almost paper thin. Nature's sense of strength and structure is one of the marvellous things that you discover in studying such bones." - Alistair Grant, from the foreword to Elephant Skull: Original Etchings by Henry Moore (exhibition catalogue).