Sheep at the solstice (or almost)

It’s completely miserable, with rain and/or heavy, blurring mist. I’m lighting the stove earlier and earlier and indulging in the midwinter ‘let’s bring the sun back by much swearing’ festival – trying to work out which ******** bulb has gone and taken out a great section of Christmas lights. At least some traditional decorations don’t need them:

petit berger et ses moutons

(One of my collection of santons, traditional terracotta figures from a Provencal crib, representing all the workers of a village. Oh, and the Holy Family, but my entire family are tout à fait laïque and include a hotch-potch of potential religious traditions, so we don’t have them.)

Always one to be distracted from the path of righteousness and going up in the loft to find out if there are any spare bulbs anywhere, I resorted to the bookshelves in search of distraction, and found it in Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook. I’ve always loved Moore’s work, both sculpture and sketching, and it’s probably no surprise that he had a fondness for sheep. Here he is, with sheep, and with his Sheep Piece in the background (‘I’ve always liked sheep, and there is one big sculpture of mine that I call Sheep Piece because I placed it in a field and the sheep enjoyed it and the lambs played around it,’):


(photograph, 1977: Henry Moore Foundation)

So I spent a happy half-hour smiling at his drawings of his neighbours. He was preparing for a huge exhibition in Florence in ’72, with packers and shippers milling about, and couldn’t work in all the chaos. So he slipped out to a small studio facing onto a field which he let to a local farmer for grazing. The sheep often pottered up to the window,


and Moore began to find them fascinating (no, not like that, for heaven’s sake).

He admits that ‘at first I saw them as rather shapeless balls of wool with a head and four legs’, but that didn’t last long. The sheep soon began to work on him, as sheep do when you spend time with them. ‘Then,’ he writes, ‘I began to realise that underneath all that wool was a body which moved in its own way, and that each sheep had its individual character.’

I’ll say:


Drawing them was comparatively straightforward – if Moore tapped on the studio window, the sheep would turn and stare back, often staying in one position for about five minutes; they’d also stay put – sometimes – if he tapped on the window again. Quite well behaved for artist’s models, then. As he became more involved, he would work up his sketches in the evenings, or even do further ones from memory.


All the packing was completed, but Moore continued drawing the sheep. Lambing had begun, and ‘…there in front of me was the mother-and-child theme.’ It’s a repeated feature of his work: ‘the large form related to the small form and protecting it, or the complete dependance of the small form on the large form’. Quite.


Moore’s real affection for his models comes through especially clearly in his drawings of ewes and lambs, and he gets some of that enthusiasm and vigour, the way a lamb can almost lift – no, can actually lift – its mum off her back feet as it charges in for a drink, for all the world like Father Jack scenting alcohol on the wind. The technique – using a ball-point pen, sometimes with a black felt pen for emphasis or shading, and occasionally with a watercolour wash – seems to me to get the texture and feel of the sheep perfectly (I’m particularly impressed with the way he renders their faces).

And not just their faces…


So I’ll end with this one, which Moore had intended to be the last (it wasn’t; he couldn’t stop). However you celebrate the season, have a good time, and


Anyone got any spare bulbs for a long string of Habitat lights, pink and red, very pretty? No? It’s the loft, then…


12 thoughts on “Sheep at the solstice (or almost)

  1. karibu57

    Off to South Africa tomorrow and won’ t be sorry to leave this soggy gloomy place behind!!!
    Have a fabulous festive time. Frohe Weihnachten und alles Gute fuer das Neue Jahr 🙂

    1. kate Post author

      How wonderful – have a great, largely rain-free, time!

      Bonnes Fêtes, bonnes vacances, et tous mes voeux pour l’année nouvelle!

  2. Lindsay

    I do love your posts – a great blend of irreverence and information. Thank you for making me smile and learn at the same time. Compliments of the Season to you!

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you! (I can’t be 100% serious – I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work…)

      Season’s Greetings and best wishes back in your direction, too!

  3. Lydia

    Yes, I love Moore’s sheep sketches too. Well, I am going to send you some of the 40oC heat that we are expecting on Christmas Day… that should help to cook the turkey! I very much enjoy reading your blog so thank you very much for writing it….. Merry Christmas and have a lovely break in the misty mountains so far away..

    1. kate Post author

      Hiya Lydia – and thanks so much for the heat, but could you possibly add some dry weather too? If it would only stop raining, it would be quite acceptable weather (at least it’s not snowing, which may be festive but which is also a pain when you ahve to do things like shop, leave the house…)

      So glad you enjoy my witterings from the (particularly) misty mountains -and have a lovely holiday yourself!

      1. Lydia

        Very happy to oblige with some hot dry easterly winds from across thousands of miles of desert! Your washing will surely dry!

        1. kate Post author

          Well – and after five days – there’s still no sign of a let-up in the rain here, so yes please!

          (We did get a little hintette of the sun yesterday. At least I think it was the sun but it may just have been the headlight of a large alien spaceship. At present I think that’s more likely, grumble….)

  4. knitsofacto

    Not sure how I missed this, but as it’s ridiculously late to say Happy Christmas have a Happy New Year instead!

    I’m quite a fan of Moore’s drawings – the ball pen thing is common – but also seem to have missed his Sheep.Sketchbook, despite knowing it existed. But guess who got a £10 Amazon voucher for Christmas … now I know what to spend it on!

    1. kate Post author

      And happy new year to you, too!

      I love Moore’s drawings possibly more than his scupltures, though I’m pretty fond of them too. You definitely need more sheep in your life!


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