Henry Moore 1898 - 1986

Provenance

with Marlborough Fine Art, London

with Wolfgang Fischer, London

Sotheby's London: Tuesday, June 25, 1996, lot 193, Impressionist and Modern Art, Part II

with Waddington Galleries, London

Jeffrey Loria, New York

Private Collection, Switzerland

Exhibitions

London, Marlborough Fine Art, Henry Moore, July-August 1966, cat no.6, illus b/w

Literature

Herbert Read, Henry Moore, Sculptures and Drawings, Volume 2, Lund Humphries, London, 1965, cat no.292a, illus b/w pl.XXXIV

John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, Thomas Nelson, London, 1968, p150, pl.1&2, another cast illus

Ionel Jianou, Henry Moore, Arted Editions, Paris, 1968, p76, cat no.276, not illus

Robert Melville, Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, Harry N Abrams, New York, 1970, cat no.418, another cast illus b/w 

Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore, Volume 2: Complete Sculpture 1949-1954, Lund Humphries, London, 1986, cat no.292a, another cast illus pl.XXV

Description

Kenneth Clark has described Henry Moore as ‘the master of the reclining figure’ and indeed this seems a fitting statement for an artist who was preoccupied with the subject throughout his career, using it as a motif through which to explore a vast range of ways in which one can construct images of, not only the human figure, but the world around them. In 1984 Moore explained the attraction of this pose,

‘There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing, the other is seated, and the third is lying down.... But of the three poses, the reclining figure gives the most freedom, compositionally and spatially. The seated figure has to have something to sit on. You can't free it from its pedestal. A reclining figure can recline on any surface. It is free and stable at the same time. It fits in with my belief that sculpture should be permanent, should last for eternity. Also, it has repose. And it suits me ─ if you know what I mean.’

Small Maquette No.1 For Reclining Figure, 1950 is one of an important group of works by Henry Moore which relate to his monumental Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951(Fig.1 LH293), a 7 ½ feet long bronze, commissioned in 1949 by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain of 1951. Heralded as the 'People's Show' by Gerald Barry the Chairman of the Festival Committee, this exhibition optimistically embraced the arts and technology, looking towards the future with radiant Modernist structures like the Skylon and the Dome of Discovery, as well as commissioning an abundance of public art projects. Along with Jacob Epstein, Moore had the first choice of sites, but the slow development of the area made it impossible to make a truly site-specific work and instead Moore focused on creating a sculpture that could be viewed in the round and in any location. Eventually, a full-size bronze cast was sited in front of Brian O'Rorke's Country Pavilion on London’s Southbank and this particular cast is now in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Two other casts are in the collections of the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Museum of Modern Art Paris.

Despite being specifically requested to create a family group, Moore felt that the occasion - more of a time of national celebration than a time for musing about community life - called for something different and his Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951 would become one of his most important sculptures on this theme. In 1968 Moore confirmed this when he included it in a list of reclining figures which mark key moments in his oeuvre, stating,

‘Certain of my works are more important to me than others, and I tend to look on them as keys to a particular period. Ones I can quickly pick out are the 1930 Reclining (Recumbent) Figure in Horton stone, in the Tate Gallery; the large Elmwood 1939 Reclining figure, now in the Detroit Museum (Institute of Arts); the 1951 Festival Reclining Figure…and my first large bronze two-piece Reclining figure (1959)’

One of the reasons for the Festival Reclining Figure’s importance was that it was the first sculpture where space and form are wholly dependent on, and inseparable from, one another. Moore explained,

‘I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional. In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and form are so naturally fused that they are one.’

All of the variations of this work (Fig.1 Fig.3, Fig.4) have the feeling of having been drawn in the air, as contours rise and fall, edges and shapes join seamlessly, yet our understanding of the human form here is not only dependent on the moulded bronze but also the shapes that it creates. If we compare this reclining figure with Moore’s Recumbent Figure, 1938 (Fig.2) where the hole is used in isolation and is carved out of the bronze, one can see how the ‘hole as space’ has now opened up, moving fluidly through the sculpture and creating shapes which help the eye to understand and configure the human body as well as the environment that it inhabits. The notion of the sculpture having been ‘drawn’ is particularly pertinent to the present work, Small Maquette No.1 For Reclining Figure, 1950 which has a wonderfully incised and uneven surface as if it has just been lifted from the pages of one of Moore’s sketchbooks. Indeed one can see a direct relationship between this sculptures surface and one of the reclining figures (bottom right) in Moore’s preparatory drawing, Study for Festival Reclining Figure, c.1950-1. (AG50-51.70, Private Collection). Here, we can see Moore drawing lines over the legs, enhancing the sense of rhythm as each one rises in an arc in an act of spontaneous mark making. In the present work this process is transferred to sculpture, with Moore literally drawing into the surface, marking the tensions and internal movements of the human body as he goes. This technique is repeated in the original plaster cast for the final work, also titled Reclining Figure, 1951, now in the Tate Gallery’s permanent collection where it appears as though Moore was beginning to mark out the placement of his lines. Where the lines on this cast appear specific and intentional, in Small Maquette No.1 For Reclining Figure, 1950 they feel more intuitive and exist as the lasting traces of the very visceral process of imagining the body through bronze. Whilst the human body has been considered on more abstract terms in this work, the underlying movements, rhythms and tensions articulate wonderfully those of the human body. Indeed, as Moore explained,

‘Sculpture, for me, must have life in it, vitality. It must have a feeling for organic form, a certain pathos and warmth. Purely abstract sculpture seems to me to be an activity that would be better fulfilled in another art, such as architecture. That is why I have never been tempted to remain a purely abstract sculptor… A sculpture must have its own life. Rather than give the impression of a smaller object carved out of a bigger block, it should make the observer feel that what he is seeing contains within itself its own organic energy thrusting outwards - if a work of sculpture has its own life and form, it will be alive and expansive, seeming larger than the stone or wood from which it is carved. It should always give the impression, whether carved or modelled, of having grown organically, created by pressure from within’