Henry Moore, Reclining Figure
“There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing. The other is seated, and the third is lying down [...]. Of the three poses, the reclining figure gives the most freedom, compositionally and spatially.”
The reclining female figure is one of Henry Moore's most iconic subjects and a motif that recurs throughout his work. Reclining Figure was conceived at a defining moment in Moore’s career, shortly before he received a commission for the Festival of Britain of 1951 that would cement his position as the most important British sculptor of the twentieth century.
After the carving of his first reclining figure around 1924, it became one of his most repeated and revised subject matters. The origins of Moore’s fascination with the reclining figure do not derive from a single source of inspiration, although Michelangelo’s figure of Dawn in the Medici Chapel in Florence and the Dionysus of the Parthenon frieze are frequently referenced. Crucially, the reclining figure was an archetype that granted Moore freedom of expression and enabled him to depart from more conventional, naturalistic modes of representation while conducting formal experiments in composition and space. The free experimentation with figure and form was a bigger focus than imbuing his reclining figures with a specific meaning: ‘I want to be quite free of having to find a ‘reason’ for doing the Reclining Figures, and freer still of having to find a ‘meaning’ for them. The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows [him] to try out all kinds of formal ideas – things that he doesn’t yet know about for certain but wants to experiment with, as Cézanne did in this ‘Bathers’ series. In my case the reclining figure provides chances of that sort. The subject-matter is given. It’s settled for you, and you know it and like it, so that within it, within the subject that you’ve done a dozen times before, you are free to invent a completely new form-idea’ (Henry Moore quoted in J. Russell, Henry Moore, London, 1968, p. 22).
In the years following the Second World War, Moore’s sculpture reached a new maturity in conception. The sculptures produced in these years are among his most representative and most powerful. The development of present work can be traced in preparatory drawings, which show the network of incised lines that embed the surface of this sculpture, enhancing its three-dimensionality and leading the eye around the body. Similarly, the mottled green patina has the texture of pastel. The strong vertical movement of this figure’s head not only echoes Picasso’s Guernica but provides a direct connection to Moore’s monumental bronze, Reclining Figure, which was produced for the aforementioned groundbreaking Festival of Britain in 1951. This figure is a clear precursor to that definitive work with the same striking presence and profound resonance.