Lauren Bacall’s idol? Letter reveals it was British sculptor Henry Moore

Actress Lauren Bacall had an art collection of hundreds of works. Among some of her favorite pieces were sculptures by British artist Henry Moore, with whom she maintained a correspondence. She is shown here in her home in 1965.
(Associated Press)

She was married to Humphrey Bogart. Shot films with the likes of John Wayne and Paul Newman. And over her long career racked up a pair of Tony Awards and an honorary Oscar. But if there was one figure who made screen legend Lauren Bacall weak in the knees it was British sculptor Henry Moore.

Bacall, who passed away in August, was a longtime art collector, who amassed hundreds of artworks. Her tastes were broad and wide-ranging and her collection included African art and Pablo Picasso. But the actress had special affinity for works by Moore, whom she began collecting in the 1950s and first met in person in the mid-1970s.

A letter Bacall wrote in June 1976 reveals Bacall’s strong admiration for Moore: “There is no way possible to articulate my feeling after my visit to Much Madham,” she wrote to Moore after their first gathering at the artist’s home in England. “Since then and my return to New York I have thought and thought of that day. It was and will ever be a high point in my life, the realization of a dream — to actually meet you and then spend time with you. Some say it is dangerous to meet one’s idols, but in your case — and this is true — you were far beyond expectation.”

The hand-written letter can be seen in the catalog for an auction of Impressionist and Modern art to take place Tuesday at Bonhams in New York. Among the items going up for bid are a pair of Moore bronzes that belonged to Bacall. The sculptures include the 1977-79 bronze “Working Model for Reclining Figure: Bone Skirt,” and the 1976 bronze “Maquette for Mother and Child: Arms.” Both pieces are tabletop-size (27 inches and 8 inches, respectively) and could bring in $750,000 to $1 million collectively, according to auction house estimates.


After meeting the artist in 1976, Bacall stayed in touch with Moore (1898-1986) over the years. At the time, Moore was already hailed for his figurative and abstract wood, bronze and stone sculptures, modern carvings that were influenced by archaic and pre-Columbian figures. (The Norton Simon in Pasadena has a number of his works in its collection.)

Bacall would write to Moore on occasion, signing by her real first name, “Betty.” The low-key Moore, as reported by the Daily Mail, seemed nonplussed by the attention.

“I think of you often and my conscience every now and then bothers me, for not having answered your letter,” he writes in one missive. “In fact your letter was so overwhelmingly nice that I didn’t know how to answer adequately.”

For Moore, it certainly must have been a curious correspondence. It couldn’t have been every day that a Hollywood icon approached him with the earnest glee of a gushing fangirl.

View the catalog for the Bonhams Impressionist & Modern Art sale here. There is also a PDF available, which contains scans of Bacall’s letter to Moore, along with a photo of her with the artist, beginning on page 86.

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