Between 1937 and 1939 Moore produced some of his most experimental sculptures including a series of stringed figures inspired by the mathematical models at the Science Museum in South Kensington: ‘Whilst a student at the R.C.A. I became involved in machine art, which in those days had its place in modern art. Although I was interested in the work of Léger, and the Futurists, who exploited mechanical forms, I was never directly influenced by machinery as such. Its interest for me lies in its capacity for movement, which, after all, is its function. I was fascinated by the mathematical models I saw there, which had been made to illustrate the difference of the form that is halfway between a square and a circle…It wasn’t the scientific study of these models but the ability to look through the strings as with a bird cage and to see one form within another which excited me’ (cited in J. Hedgecoe, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, p. 105). It is likely that Moore was also influenced in this experimental phase by the work of Naum Gabo, whom he met in London in 1935 and exhibited alongside at the Abstract and Concrete show in Oxford the following year.
Moore’s stringed sculptures, including Bird Basket, 1939 (The Henry Moore Foundation), The Bride, 1939–40 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Stringed Figure, 1939 (Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, Japan), combined wood, lead or bronze with string or wire to create dramatic internal spaces simultaneously enclosed and revealed, the strings imparting ‘a metaphorical as well as an actual tension’ (C. Stephens, Henry Moore, exh cat, Tate Publishing, London, 2010, p. 127). The organic, curvilinear figure in the present work provides a dynamic contrast to the geometric shapes created by the taut string, revealing Moore’s fascination with the interplay between interior and exterior forms. The first version of Stringed Figure, 1939 was made in lead and wire (private collection, New York) and appears in a drawing of Ideas for Sculpture in Metal and Wire, 1939 (private collection).
The use of red string in this work corresponds with an earlier drawing of sculptural forms which display interiors of the same colour. Dated two years before the sculpture was made, Five Figures in a Setting, 1937 (Henry Moore Family Collection) depicts a preliminary design for Stringed Figure in the second form from the left. The figures are arranged in a line against a somewhat sinister stage-set marked with geometric forms, further demonstrating the seemingly paradoxical blend of abstraction and surrealism in the artist’s work. Moore exhibited at (and helped to organise) the International Surrealist Exhibition at New Burlington Galleries in 1936 and the following year railed against the unnecessary ‘violent quarrel between the abstractionists and the surrealists…All good art has contained both abstract and surrealist elements, just as it has contained both classical and romantic elements – order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and unconscious. Both sides of the artist’s personality must play their part’ (the artist cited in D Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture 1921–48, vol. 1, Lund Humphries, London, 1990, p. xxxv).
 Christa Lichtenstern proposed that Moore may also have been aware of Man Ray’s photographs of mathematical models published in Cahiers d’Art, vol.11, no.s 1–2, 1936, pp. 7–9, 11–20, C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work, Theory, Reception, London, 2008, p. 90, cited in C. Stephens (ed.), Henry Moore, exh cat, Tate Publishing, London, 2010, p. 231.
J.B.Taylor, circa 1968, purchased directly from the artist thence by descent
New York, Museum of
Modern Art, Henry Moore, 18 December
1946-16 March 1947, cat no.46, lead and copper wire version illus b/w p58,
Chicago, Art Institute
of Chicago, 17 April-18 May 1947
San Francisco, Museum
of Art, 9 July-6 August 1947
London, Tate Gallery, Henry Moore, Arts Council, 17 July-22
September 1968, p105, cat no.50, another cast illus b/w pl.93
Beyeler, Henry Moore, Sculptures,
May-June1970, cat no.1, another cast illus b/w
Gallery, Small Bronzes and Drawings by
Henry Moore, 30 November-23 December 1972, p12, cat no.3, another cast
Florence, Forte di
Belvedere, Henry Moore, 20 May-30
September 1972, cat no.45, p131, another cast illus b/w
Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum, Henry
Moore, Sculptures, Drawings and Graphics, 11 April-5 June 1986, cat no.154, another cast illus b/w p117, touring
Fukuoka, Art Museum,
21 June-27 July 1986
London, Tate Gallery, Henry Moore, 24 February-8 August 2010,
cat no.72, plaster and string version illus colour p148
William Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 7, no. 78 (lead and wire version illustrated). Robert Melville, Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawing, 1921-1969, London, 1970, p. 346, no. 204 (lead and wire version illustrated). David Mitchinson (ed.), Henry Moore, Sculpture, London, 1981, p. 310, no. 128 (another cast illus colour, p 76) David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture, 1921-1948, London, 1988, Volume 1 , p. 12, no. 207 (lead and wire version illustrated, p. 133)
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