- Henry Moore
- travertine marble
Henry Cady Wells, Santa Fe, New Mexico (acquired by 1949)
Private Collection, Switzerland
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Henry Moore, 1946, no. 25, illustrated in the catalogue
Madrid, Palacio de Vélazquez, Palacio de Cristal & Parque de El Retiro, Henry Moore - Sculptures, Drawings, Graphics 1921-1981, 1981, no. 80, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Didier Imbert Fine Arts, Henry Moore Intime, 1992, illustrated in the catalogue
Tokyo, Sezon Museum of Art (and travelling in Japan), Henry Moore Intime, 1992-93, no. I-1
Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, illustrated pl. 84
John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, New York, 1968, no. 5, illustrated p. 86
John Russell, Henry Moore, New York, 1968, no. 47, illustrated p. 50
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 90, illustrated
David Mitchinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Sculpture, London, 1981, no. 80, illustrated p. 58
David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore: Sculpture 1921-1948, London, 1988, vol. I, no. 137, illustrated p. 11
Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Los Angeles, 2002, illustrated p. 206; illustrated in colour on the cover
During the early 1930s Moore's sculpture made a dramatic leap into his mature style of sensuous, abstracted reality. As Herbert Read suggested 'the organism is now violently distorted, to constitute the super-real forms of a new mythology of the unconscious' (H. Read, Henry Moore, London, 1965, p. 83). Figure has been carved out of a single block of travertine marble and Moore has utilised the stone's naturally porous and troughed surface to enrich the purity of the overall form. The artist outlined the particular qualities of travertine as 'ruddy, powerful, strong. You feel you haven't got to handle it with kid gloves' (Alan Wilkinson (ed.), op. cit., p. 191). Figure's graceful execution is therefore a testament to Moore's technical virtuosity as a sculptor.
The fulcrum of the work is a dynamically hollowed ovoid channel that transforms the block into a lively exploration of organic and human form. The artist described his reasons behind introducing hollows into his work: 'The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. The hole connects one side to the other, making it immediately more three-dimensional. A hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass. Sculpture in air is possible, where the stone contains only the hole, which is the intended and considered form' (quoted in Henry Moore: Sculptures, Drawings, Graphic 1921-1981 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1981, p. 46).
Elements of Primitive art found their way into Moore's carvings of this period (fig. 2), especially the uninhibited grace of Cycladic figures and heads (fig. 3). In the present work the artist utilises the potential of the surrealistic manipulation of shapes to derive no direct resemblance to a natural form but nonetheless imbue the entire object with an organic potency. Moore explained that: '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' (quoted in Henry Moore: Sculptures, Drawings, Graphic 1921-1981 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 59).
Figure betrays a treatment of form that bears testament to the way Moore aligned himself with the contemporary artistic currents on the European continent, with the Surrealist artists and in particular Brancusi (fig. 4). As Robert Melville observed: 'During the period from 1931 to the beginning of the war, Moore carved a superb series of organic abstractions. They are as 'shape conscious' as the sculpture of Brancusi and Arp, but they are more persistently penetrated by human associations, and they reveal his connections with Surrealism. He belongs to the Surrealist generation' (R. Melville, op. cit., p. 12). Indeed, the present work was exhibited at the pivotal International Surrealist Exhibition held in London in 1936 (fig. 5), alongside works by de Chirco, Ernst and Miró. Moore himself acknowledged the importance of Brancusi's influence: 'Brancusi's dictum of truth to material, that is letting the material you are working in help to shape the sculpture, had a big influence on me. You didn't try to make in stone something that would have been infinitely easier to make in wire or metal. [...] This truth to material became a tenet' (quoted in Henry Moore, My Ideas, inspiration and Life as an Artist, London, 1986, p. 86).
Figure is expressed in an idiom that allowed Moore to celebrate the possibilities of three-dimensional art to create forms that were no longer bound by the classically defined parameters of sculpture. Herbert Read wrote that 'he has dared to seek below the level of consciousness for those archetypal forms that represent life in its deepest recesses and the most powerful manifestation... to abandon the ideal of beauty and establish in its place the ideal of vitality' (H. Read, op. cit., p. 257).
Throughout the period of its creation the complex intertwining of influences and the technical advances Moore made, exemplified by the present work, projected him onto the international stage. Aside from the 1936 Surrealist exhibition, he exhibited at the landmark show, Plastik, held at the Kunsthaus Zurich in 1938. He became a founder-member of UNIT 1 and joined the English Surrealist Group. Figure became a celebrated part of his œuvre, and was included in his first major retrospective show in America held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946.
Fig. 1, Henry Moore in his studio in Hammersmith, London, circa 1925
Fig. 2, Henry Moore, Composition, 1931, green hornton stone, The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Fig. 3, Attributed to the Dresden Master, Female Figure, Early Cycladic II (circa 2300-2200 B.C.), marble, Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva
Fig. 4, Constantin Brancusi, Le Baiser, 1925, stone, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Fig. 5. The present work in The International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936.