The six-month process of producing Reclining Figure: Festival was the subject of a BBC documentary made by John Read, charting the development from initial drawings to its multi-part casting at the Gaskin foundry. Though Moore’s critical fame was in the ascendency after representing Britain at the 1948 Venice Biennale, the film brought his work to a wider public audience. The present work is the first of the two maquettes, and this cast is very close to the finished sculpture. The linear pattern was developed in tandem with the form from the outset by Moore pressing string into the plaster. In the bronze of the maquette, the end result is an extraordinary and beautiful texture to the surface, leading our eye down and around the sinuous curves of the figure.
The reclining figure and the mother and child motif were the two fundamental obsessions of Moore’s career. At the heart of the preoccupation with the reclining figure is the relationship between human and landscape, between presence and absence, between the solid and the surround. In Small Maquette No. 1 for Reclining Figure, the figure is no longer pierced by a hole that introduces space into the previously impenetrable solid sculpture but instead space – and, by extension, the environment – partners the bronze. In 1954, Moore wrote, ‘If space is a willed, a wished-for element in the sculpture, then some distortion of the form – to ally itself to the space – is necessary…Recently, I have attempted to make the forms and the spaces (not holes) inseparable, neither being more important than the other. In the last bronze, Reclining Figure, I think I have in some measure succeeded in this aim.’ (Henry Moore quoted in Felix Man, Eight European Artists, London, 1954, unpaginated). Placed outside the Pavilion of the Festival dedicated to the ‘Land of Britain’ (or ‘Country’), the female figure became a shorthand for fecundity, a personification of the physical and psychical nurturing properties of the landscape. The culmination of this variant of the reclining figure motif, before Moore progressed to more classical interpretations, Small Maquette No. 1 for Reclining Figure is a marker of one of the most significant public sculptures of the post-war period, in Britain and internationally. The perfect fusion of Neo-Romanticism and Surrealism, of individual apprehension and collective hope, the work represents a seminal moment in the career of Britain's greatest 20th century artist.
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