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Everybody's tree

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IT came out about a year ago now, but it has the character of a small, though not unimportant, footnote to the much-documented, much-accoladed career of British sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986). This book, ``In Irina's Garden,'' was never intended to be more than modest: Indeed its protagonist, Moore's Russian-born wife, Irina, gave it her approval, so photographer David Finn tells us in his preface, only on condition that it ``should be simple and unpretentious.''

An interesting essay by the distinguished poet Stephen Spender, charting a long friendship with the Moores, sets the tone well. So do the photographs by Finn - some, like the tree shown here, are really little more than good snapshots - and the vigorous draw-ings of winter trees against the sky by Moore are not the artist in top gear but show an aspect of his appreciation of the pleasant, stimulating surroundings of his home. All the emphasis is on the normality of the daily life of a hard-working married couple, one of whom happens to have been heralded worldwide as ``a great sculptor.'' It is a story as plain, direct, and unflam-boyant as the branches and twigs of winter trees.

Spender observes: ``What strikes one about Moore is the originality; what strikes one about the man is the humanity: and, putting the two impressions together, both the man and the work - the man in the work - suggest a kind of ideal norm of individual man as creative, imaginative, responsible, and even, in some profound sense, ordinary.''

If this (wrongly) makes Moore sound slightly dull, Irina Moore - usually, one gathers, reticent, but coaxed into recording some ``Reminiscences'' for this book - comes across as not at all so.

What she is is down to earth. The pretext of the book is that she has always been the gardener in the Moore household. Elsewhere Moore paid verbal tribute to this fact.

His wife puts it this way: ``Henry ... didn't work in the garden, he's no gardener. I don't even remember him mowing the lawn in the early days, although he says he did; but he did help me to plant things.''

It was after their wartime escape from London to Much Hadham in Hertfordshire - from where they never moved - that Irina Moore started to spend all her time in the garden. She had met Henry when he was teaching sculpture at the Royal College of Art and she was there studying painting. She describes his attraction to her, even though she was already, unknown to him, engaged to a ``terrribly nice'' man called Leslie. ``But Henry,'' she remarks,``was very pushy.''


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