Moore studied sculpture at Leeds School of Art in 1919 having left the British army at the end of the First World War. His first reclining figure was made in 1924 but it remained a key sculptural subject for the rest of his life. Originally inspired by both Cycladic and Aztec sculpture, Moore embraced primitivism and abstraction when sculpting reclining figures. The theme gained new significance for Moore when he was a war artist during the Blitz in London. He recorded the impact of destruction on the city’s civilians and was struck by the sleeping forms he witnessed at night amid the underground network, acting as temporary shelters. These unforgettable sights greatly informed Moore’s artistic vision and guaranteed the reclining figure to be the most enduring motif of his career.
In terms of Moore’s approach to materials, he underwent a striking shift after the Second World War and the present work is a quintessential example of his newly-found methodology. Before the 1940s he was an advocate for carving directly from a block of stone or wood but proceeded to realise the benefits of working in bronze, terracotta and plaster. Bronze in particular granted the artist greater flexibility with his formal experimentation and the material’s tensile strength enabled him to open out the figure in dynamic ways, increasing the work’s dramatic effect. Reclining Figure: Holes exhibits Moore’s skill in manipulating the material to its absolute potential, punctuating the body with holes, which initiates a scintillating interplay between light and dark. The solid form of the body, anchored by gravity, provides a sharp contrast with the voids of space, instilling the figure with a sense of vitality and energy.
The present work reveals the artist’s discovery of rhythm as a constituent force in the generation of form; the gentle, undulating curves make it look as if the figure itself had been shaped by nature’s energy. As David Sylvester has commented: ‘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). Reclining Figure: Holes is a wonderful mature work, created at a time when Moore had mastered the most technically complex expressions of sculptural form.
Other casts of this work are in the collections of the Henry Moore Foundation and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York.
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