Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York
Harry I. Caesar, Salem Center
Private Collection, USA
Private Collection, USA
New York, Buchholz Gallery, Henry Moore, 1951, cat no. 14
David Sylvester, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1948, Vol. I, London, 1957, cat no.249, p.16
At the same time as carving the gentle Memorial Figure for Dartington Hall, Moore was working on a dramatic Reclining Figure in elm wood for the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, for which the present work served as a maquette. The idea for the sculpture first appeared in Moore’s drawings from 1942: ‘I was catching up on the two years of sculpture time I had lost through the war and I had many accumulated ideas to get rid of. And so I was doing two sculptures at the same time although the two were completely different from each other in mood. Thus I was able to satisfy both sides of my nature’ (the artist cited in J. Hedgecoe and H. Moore, Henry Spencer Moore, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, p. 171). In contrast to the tranquillity of the memorial work, Moore felt this Reclining Figure, ‘with its big beating heart like a great pumping station’ expressed ‘more disturbing, more violent feelings’ (the artist in J. Hedgecoe, ibid., p. 171 and P. James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, MacDonald, 1966, p. 103).
Distinct from the solid, classical naturalism of the Dartington Hall figure, Moore’s hollow elm wood sculpture signals a nostalgic return to the biomorphic forms associated with surrealism. Although in describing the work Moore made connections with machinery, the organic curvature of the contours and tonality of the bronze seem to reflect the natural material of the intended large-scale sculpture. In contrast to the upright head and neck of the figure, the horizontal limbs call to mind Moore’s early transformation drawings, the top leg projecting
over the lower, evoking the large branch of a tree stretching out from the trunk. The interweaving arms and legs create a series of holes and shadowy caverns in a complex interplay of space and mass, solid yet fluid form.
Celia Houdart has interpreted the sculpture as a mother and foetus, the deep incisions in the place of eyes representing a ‘blinding’ or prevention of foresight relating to Post-War angst: ‘The mother looks towards the sky and her body is literally knotted up with anxiety for her child’ (C. Allemand-Cosneau, M. Fath and D. Mitchinson, Henry Moore From the Inside Out: Plasters, Carvings and Drawings, Prestel, Munich, 1996 p. 114).