The subject of the reclining figure, explored in Four Piece Reclining Figure, is probably the single most iconic image of Henry Moore’s oeuvre. Initially inspired by Mexican sculpture, this subject recurs throughout the artist’s career, ranging from organic forms to near-abstract, geometric ones. 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” (D. Sylvester, Henry Moore, New York & London, 1968, p. 5).
Moore first started making sculptures consisting of more than one piece in the 1930s. According to the artist’s own account, it was while working on another large outdoor piece that he “realised what an advantage a separate two-piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape. Knees and breasts are mountains. Once these two parts become separated you don’t expect it to be a naturalistic figure; therefore, you can more justifiably make it like a landscape or a rock. If it is a single figure, you can guess what it’s going to be like. If it is in two pieces, there’s a bigger surprise, you have more unexpected views; therefore the special advantage over painting—of having the possibility of many different views—is more fully exploited” (quoted in Carlton Lake, Atlantic Monthly, vol. 209, no. 1, Boston, January 1962, p. 44). In splitting a reclining figure into four separate forms, Moore was able to explore multiple relationships between different elements of the figure, as well as those between man and environment.
The artist delved further into the subject of multi-piece sculptures, stating: “Sculpture that is made in several pieces which are arranged in relation to each other is something which I as a sculptor am particularly conscious of. The distances apart between the different pieces of sculpture, if they are wrong, is what I would notice immediately. It is like when in a museum the art historians have found fragments of a Greek sculpture: they may have found a head, a bit of an arm, a knee and perhaps a foot, but they don’t stick the foot on the knee and so on—they make a gap between them with a wire connecting each piece and this distance apart between each piece is what they must have right. My two-piece and three-piece sculptures have the space between each part which to me is the same as spacing the knee from the foot. This space between each piece is terribly important and is as much a form as the actual solid, and should be looked upon as a piece of form or a shape just as much as the actual material (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, with comments by the artist, New York, 1981, p. 266).
John Read wrote about the monumental version of Four Piece Reclining Figure: “The suave bumps and curves of this sculpture tempt the hand to offer a caress. It is an appeal to our sense of touch and all that implies. Though each section is independent, together they generate a communal life. It has become a nest of sculptures, but conceived on a gigantic scale. That feeling of touching is very important as one becomes aware of the points of contact, where one form rests upon another… The Large Four Piece Reclining Figure is one of Moore’s most abstract inventions and almost Surrealistic in its effects. There is a wonderful tension between the tangible and the intangible… On a full scale, with the impressive dimensions that this work has, the merely decorative becomes something else and is very powerful, elemental and overwhelming” (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Celebrating Moore, London, 1998, pp. 303-04).
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