The present bronze belongs to a series of reclining figures that Moore created in the aftermath of the celebrated sculpture he was commissioned to make for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, which he completed in 1958. Moore was at odds with the practice of making a sculpture for an existing building as a simple enhancement to the architecture, and thought of his sculpted figures as independent works of art that needed to be seen at all angles. His solution was to create an architectural element for the sculpture itself, and during this period he created several works in which his figures were positioned on stairs, in front of a wall, or—in the case of the present work—on a raised pedestal.
The challenge of relating a sculptural figure to its architectural surroundings continued to fascinate Moore for the remainder of the decade, resulting in a number of sculptures which combine the human form with the man-made. In the present work, the two-part pedestal has a dual role in the relationship between the figure and the viewer: on one hand it raises the figure closer to the observer’s eye-level thus making it more accessible, while on the other it creates an independent and private space in which the figure exists.
The subject of a reclining figure, explored in this large-scale work, is probably the single most iconic image of Henry Moore’s oeuvre. Initially inspired by Mexican sculpture (see fig. 1), this subject recurs throughout the artist’s career, ranging from organic forms to near-abstract, geometric ones, and including several monumental versions. Moore explained his fascination with this motif: "The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows you 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 his '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" (quoted in J. Russell, Henry Moore, London, 1968, p. 28).
Discussing Moore’s reclining figures, Ionel Jianou observed: "All the problems of his sculpture are dealt within them: constructing a volume in space by opposing masses, the inner energy and organic vitality of form, open form introducing space inside the solid, the figure in several dislocated pieces, the relationship of internal and external forms, the integration of sculpture with landscape" (I. Jianou, op. cit., n.p.). Indeed, Reclining Figure on Pedestal displays most of these elements; the lightness of the curved figure stands in contrast to the solidity of the pedestal. At the same time, the figure’s flat top and multi-arched lower section echo the structure that supports her. The combination of the organic and rhythmic shape of the human form and the solidity of the pedestal makes this a wonderfully dynamic work.
The plaster for Reclining Figure on Pedestal is in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Several bronze casts are in public collections, including Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas, University Art Gallery in Binghampton, New York, Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation in Los Angeles and the Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki.
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