A version of this blog post was originally published in The Jewel Atop Vancouver, the commemorative publication marking the 50th Anniversary of the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. The $20 publication is available now from VanDusen Botanical Garden. It’s the kind of thing that would make an excellent stocking stuffer for Christmas.
In late fall of 1969, the opening day for the new Bloedel Conservatory wasn’t the only reason why thousands of Vancouverites turned up in Queen Elizabeth Park. They were also there to see a sculpture by British artist Henry Moore.
At the time, Moore was one of the most famous artists in the world. His work was celebrated in Europe and North America and collected by major public museums and galleries including the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
On hand for the big event were donors Prentice and his wife Virginia Bloedel who pulled the wrapping off the big bronze sculpture called Knife Edge Two Piece. Prentice was the son of J.H. Bloedel, one of the two halves of forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel that once dominated the industry in B.C. The Bloedel Foundation donated $1.25 million to build the conservatory, a sum which included $150,000 to buy Moore’s sculpture.
The official unveiling of Moore’s work took place at a private ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 6. The public was invited to see the new conservatory and sculpture in the plaza the next day.
One newspaper story reported that the sculpture attracted the attention of a prankster into art criticism. Early Sunday morning, as the public was about to arrive, someone stuck a “Made in Japan” sign on Moore’s abstract work. It was quickly removed.
Others weren’t nearly so ironic. They were there to see an original work by the renowned artist. A woman with grey hair looked at the plaque on the sculpture and was quoted saying to her friend: “See Phyllis, I told you it was a Henry Moore.”
Knife Edge is a wonderful example of what art historians have called Moore’s return to abstraction in the 1960s.
Knife Edge has neither front nor back. Instead, it’s meant to be seen from all angles and, as you move around, the sculpture changes dramatically. From the west and east sides, you can see how the empty space between the two pieces creates a vertical-shaped void. Looking from north or south, the sculpture changes to a much flatter, horizontal orientation that parallels the ground.
Years later, The Vancouver Sun described Knife Edge as one of the city’s true art treasures that was “full of an urgent sense of energy and vitality.”
As an artist, Moore often looked for ideas and inspiration in nature. The starting point for Knife Edge is believed to have been Moore’s fascination with the shapes of bones and their different qualities of “thinness and broadness,” according to one art historian.
For years, it was believed that Vancouver’s Knife Edge was one of three castings. In fact, there are four.
In addition to the one on prominent display by the water fountains at Queen Elizabeth Park, there is one outsideParliament in London, England and another in Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate, in the Hudson Valley, New York. A fourth is at the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire, England.
While it’s next to impossible to determine how much Knife Edge has increased in value beyond the $150,000 originally paid for it in 1969, it’s a safe bet to say it’s worth much more today.
One study estimated that between 2007 and 2012 Moore’s sculptures increased by 183 per cent to a high of $10.9 million ($8.4 million US).
In 2012, the value of Moore’s work increased dramatically. Reclining Figure: Festival, depicting a woman reclining, set a record price for a Moore sculpture when it sold for $39.4 million ($30.1 million US) at a Christie’s auction. The sale re-affirmed Moore’s stature as one of the top sculptors of the 20th century.