Although one of the most internationally significant Modernists, Moore's work never lost its focus on the human form. He once stated that: 'the human figure is the basis of all my sculpture, and that for me means the female nude. From the very beginning the reclining figure has been my main theme. The first one I made was around 1924, and probably more than half of my sculptures since have been reclining figures' (Henry Moore, quoted in John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, p.151). He described the three basic poses of the human figure: standing, sitting and lying down. That in the vast majority of his works the female figure is either seated or reclining is a preference that initially stemmed from the sculptor's desire to work in stone, for the practical concern that a standing figure in carved stone is structurally weak at the ankles, 'but with either a seated or reclining figure one doesn't have this worry,' Moore explained. 'And between them are enough variations to occupy any sculptor for a lifetime.' He noted, moreover, that 'of the three poses the reclining figure gives the most freedom, compositionally and spatially. The seated figure has to have something to sit on. You can't free it from its pedestal. A reclining figure can recline on any surface. It is free and stable at the same time. It fits in with my belief that sculpture should be permanent, should last for an eternity. Also, it has repose' (David Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, with Comments by the Artist, MacMillan, London, 1981, p. 86).
The female nude is a well established theme within Western art history, and Moore's decision to focus on it is not challenging in itself. The tone, however, with which he investigates and celebrates the topic is at odds with much of the genre. This does not stem from any prudishness, but for the reason that more than any other great male artist of the 20th century, Moore was sympathetic to the complex and multi-dimensional lives of women, he 'honors and never humiliates his feminine subjects. They are sensual but not flagrantly or even coyly erotic' (Albert Elsen, Modern European Sculpture 1918-1945, Braziller in association with Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, 1979, p.50). He was especially respectful of their all-important role in human society as the bearers of miraculous life-giving powers. 'These reclining women are not the reclining women of a Maillol or a Matisse,' Will Grohmann has written, 'they are women in repose but also something more profound...woman as the concept of fruitfulness, the Mother Earth. Moore, who once pointed to the maternal element in the "Reclining Figures," may well see in them an element of eternity, the "Great Female," who is both birth-giving nature and the wellspring of the unconscious... To Henry Moore, the "Reclining Figures" are no mere external objects, he identifies himself with them, as well as the earth and the whole realm of motherhood' (Will Grohman, The Art of Henry Moore, Thames and Hudson, London, 1960, p.43).
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