Exploring the most iconic theme of the sculptor’s entire corpus to powerful effect, Reclining Figure: Pointed Head
dates from the height of Henry Moore’s mature body of work, when he had mastered the most technically complex expressions of sculptural form. Initially inspired by Mexican and Classical sculpture, the subject of the reclining figure recurs throughout the artist's career, ranging from organic forms to near-abstract, geometric ones, and including several monumental versions. Writing about Moore's sculptures, David Sylvester commented: 'They are made to look as if they themselves had been shaped by nature's energy. They seem to be weathered, eroded, tunneled-into by the action of wind and water. The first time Moore published his thoughts about art, he wrote that the sculpture which moved him most gave out 'something of the energy and power of great mountains' [...] Moore's reclining figures are not supine; they prop themselves up, are potentially active. Hence the affinity with river-gods; the idea is not simply that of a body subjected to the flow of nature's forces but of one in which those forces are harnessed' (David Sylvester, Henry Moore,
New York & London, 1968, p. 5).
In the present work, the figure is portrayed leaning back, supported by one hand, legs apart with slightly bent knees. This positioning recalls a similar pose found in the Parthenon figure known as Dionysus
which Moore would have encountered on his trips to the British Museum. Moore's discovery of Classicism, due to his visits to Greece and the British Museum, affected his interpretation of the reclining figure. Moore addresses the reason for his interest in the Greek sculpture of Dionysus
: ‘The sculptor who did this had a thorough understanding of the human figure, and shows so realistically the difference between the slackness of the flesh and the hardness of the bone beneath it [...] This piece always attracted me, perhaps because of my interest in reclining figures’ (quoted in David Finn, Henry Moore at the British Museum
, New York, 1981, p. 60). In explaining Moore's attraction to the reclining figure, David Sylvester writes, ‘When he was teaching in art schools he used to encourage his students to start a life-drawing of a standing figure with the feet and work upwards. It was essential that the figure should be firmly grounded. For him, gravity comes first, and however much he may erode the mass, weight is his point of departure. A figure close to the ground gives him that’ (David Sylvester, Henry Moore,
New York & London, 1968, p. 5).
A colossus of twentieth-century sculpture, Moore’s influence was felt not only by his contemporaries, such as Barbara Hepworth, but also by the next generation of sculptors. Dorothy Kosinski argues that Moore’s influence on his fellow sculptors was of profound importance: ‘His impact on the history of modern and contemporary sculpture in Britain – witness the examples of Caro, Kapoor and Deacon – is multifaceted and sustained. This impact is evident in innovative explorations of form and void; in the respectful manipulation of materials; in the enduring importance of art in dialogue with nature; and in the robust interaction of art and audience that occurs in the public realm’ (quoted in: Henry Moore, Sculpting the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), Dallas Museum of Art, 2001, p. 29).