Recumbent Figures, 1934
signed and dated lower right and titled and dated on reverse
pencil and wash on paper
15 x 10 5/8 inches
38 x 27 cm
38 x 27 cm
ProvenanceAcquired at the Bucholz Gallery in the late 30ies.Private Collection NYCPrivate Collection Hong Kong
Description'A Sculptor needs to be able to see form completely, and you can only understand three-dimensional form with a great deal of experience and effort and struggle. You can only do that if you try to correct yourself on something that you feel as intensely about as the human figure. The construction of the human figure - the tremendous variety of balance, of size, of rhythm, is much more difficult to get right than an animal or a tree. You cannot understand anything without also getting emotionally involved. It isn't just academic training, it really is a deep, strong, fundamental struggle when you are drawing the human figure.' 
The 1930s was for Moore one of the most highly inventive and productive periods of his entire career. Alongside teaching throughout the decade in London, first at the Royal College of Art (until the end of 1930) and then at the Chelsea School of Art (until the outbreak of the Second World War), Moore produced around 150 sculptures and a staggering 850 sketches and drawings.
Recumbent Figures, 1934 shows nine variations on the theme of the reclining figure, which range from the most abstract examples - the two forms at the bottom of the top section, to the most naturalistic - the two larger forms beneath. The metamorphosis of these figures echo Moore's Transformation drawings from two years earlier, in which natural found objects such as bones, roots and lobster claws transition from sketch to sketch into recognisably human figures. In a statement for Unit One made the same year as the present drawing, Moore said: 'The human figure is what interests me most deeply, but I have found principles of form and rhythm from the study of natural objects such as pebbles, rocks, bones, trees, plants, etc. Pebbles and rocks show nature's way of working stone…and the principal of asymmetry…Bones have a marvellous structural strength and hard tenseness of form, subtle transition of one shape into the next and great variety in section'.
Reminiscent of the drawings of Georges Seurat, the present work relies heavily on the interplay of tonal values, conveying a strong sense of positive and negative space. Divided roughly in half into two distinct sections, the drawing has a darker top section where the sheet has been lightly shaded with charcoal and a lighter bottom section where the unshaded off-white sheet has been faintly smudged. The monochrome drawing is dominated by just three tones - a dark grey, which is used to depict five of the figures; a mid-grey, used for the background of the top section and one of the large figures in the bottom section, and the off-white of the sheet itself, which forms the background in the bottom section and three figures in the top section, their silhouettes emerging from the surrounding charcoal ground.
Although in a number of his drawings Moore places the figure within a setting - often a naturalistic or surrealist inspired landscape - here the forms float ungrounded within an ambiguous pictorial space. The focus here is on the figures themselves, and their interrelation and differentiation as form ideas. By repeating, on the same sheet, forms that are individual but with clear mutual resemblance, Moore creates what Robert Melville termed a 'community of statuary.'  The seemingly haphazard, overlapping arrangement of the figures in this drawing, is redolent of Moore's collages of reclining figures from 1928-29 and 1933, and recalls the artist's studio space, where dozens upon dozens of small plaster maquettes and found natural objects inhabited his work bench and the surrounding shelves. Staggered smallest to largest from top to bottom of the sheet, the undulating reclining forms are equally evocative of a rugged landscape.
In 1937 Moore stated, 'My drawings are done mainly as a help towards making sculpture - as a means of generating ideas for sculpture, tapping oneself for the initial idea; and a way of sorting out ideas and developing them. Also, sculpture compared with drawing is a slow means of expression, also I find drawing a useful outlet for ideas which there is not time enough to realise as sculpture.' 
Indeed there are formal affinities between a number of the figures within this drawing and Moore's sculptures from the 1930s - the smallest white figure bears a strong resemblance to the carving Reclining Figure also dating from 1934; while the dark form directly alongside it recalls the later maquette Reclining Figure: Blanket, 1939 and the asymmetric cubist-style face of the largest dark figure is highly reminiscent of both Moore's carving Head, 1936 and the refracted abstraction of Picasso's The Dream, 1932.
The sense that Moore is presenting a 'sculptural' idea of the body is enhanced by the formal qualities through which the bottom two figures are imagined. Although the forms are at first glance quite flattened, Moore appears to have used a small tool to scrape away the charcoal at lower left, leaving a zig-zag pattern on the figure's legs, conveying a subtle three-dimensionality. On the lighter figure delicately drawn curved lines descend the exterior of the figure's left leg. These fine lines are analogous to how Moore might incise the surface of a carving, and are also, perhaps, an early imagining of the stringed sculptures he began to make in 1937.
Although in his early period Moore favoured drawings over maquettes as an aid to developing ideas for sculpture, he considered his drawings as individual works in their own right. From the outset of his career Moore believed that it was possible to discern the quality of a sculptor from his drawings alone. Emphasising this point he said, 'Drawing is everything. If somebody comes to me and says, There is a young sculptor and he's going to be very good - would you like to see his work? I say, What's his drawing like? Oh, he doesn't draw. Well then, I know he's no good. All the sculptors who have been any good have been great draughtsmen. Drawing is enough if you do it well'.  While many of Moore's early drawings take the form of loose sketches, the present work, with its carefully thought out composition and high level of finish is a particularly fine example of Moore's skills as a draughtsman.
 Steven W. Rosen, Henry Moore, Henry Moore: The Reclining Figure, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, 1984, exhibition catalogue
 Henry Moore, 'Statement for Unit One', in Herbert Read (ed.), Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, London 1934, pp.29-30, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-statement-for-unit-one-r1175898
 Andrew Causey, The Drawings of Henry Moore, Lund Humphries, Surrey, 2010, p68
 Andrew Causey, The Drawings of Henry Moore, Lund Humphries, Surrey, 2010, p42
 Moore cited in Henry Moore and John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, my ideas, inspiration and life as an artist, Ebury Press, London, p96