Reclining Figure bronze with a black patina 45 cm. (17 3/4 in.) long From an edition of 7, conceived in 1945
Literature: David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore Complete Sculpture 1921-48 London, 1957, p.160, no.257 (ill.b&w.) Herbert Read, Henry Moore. A Study of his Life and Work, London, 1965, no. 143, p.274, ill.b&w. p.165 (another cast illustrated) Ionel Jianou, Henry Moore, Paris, 1968, no.241, p. 75, ill.b&w. p.88 (another cast illustrated) Robert Melville, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no.350 (ill.b&w.)
Exhibited: Colombus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art, October-December 1984, travelling exhibition, Henry Moore. The Reclining Figure, ills. no. 25 and 25a, p. 53 (b&w. another cast illustrated) London, Royal Academy of Arts, Henry Moore, September-December 1988, cat. no.105, p.223, also ill.p.85 (another cast illustrated)
Provenance: with The Marlborough Gallery, London, 1960, where purchased by The Late David Astor, thence by descent.
The end of the Second World War brought a renewed availability of metals into the production of art in Britain. Sculpture enjoyed a 'revival' as artists once again cast their works in the pure mixtures of fine elements. As many of his contemporary artists during the bleakest years of the War of Britain, Henry Moore had shifted the direction of his own interests, focusing on the graphic rather than the three-dimensional rendition of his aesthetic concepts. Moores perceptive skill at draughting were presented to the greater public through his series of Shelter Drawings, commissioned from the War Artists Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of Kenneth Clark, then director of the National Gallery in London. As an Official War Artist, Moore filled his sketchbooks with views of the London underground system swarmed by sheltering citizens during the air raids. It was Moores fascinating 'documented report' on the historical episode of the citys wartime story, exhibited in the rooms of the National Gallery in London in the early 1940s, which brought the name of the sculptor as a painter to wide public attention - and appreciation. With this, any pre-war animosity against Moores sculpture now turned to laudatory criticism applauding the artists unique exploration of the figures personal and universal humanity. Lord Clarks later comments on the two Shelter Sketchbooks make the essential link between Moores graphic and sculpting abilities: 'Since circumstances kept him from his sculpture, he became in effect a painter. His watercolour sketches of the darkened caves render space and atmosphere like a picture by Goya; but, as was to be expected, his renderings of the human body are given weight and substance, and related to each other like great sculpture.' [Kenneth Clark, Henry Moore Drawings, New York: Harper and Row, 1974, p.150]
Moores first series of sculptures following the Shelter Drawings are an amalgam of ideas for sculpture put down in the pre-War sketchbooks, and of the visual lessons on the human figure assimilated during the London underground exercises. These two origins for Moores sculptures of 1945 concern us directly since the Reclining Figure of 1945, is, in this instance, a perfect case for study. Moores early preoccupations with the naturalistic rendering of bones, rocks and shells and their anthropomorphic qualities have absorbed at a second level, as seen in this sculpture, the idea of a sheltered body lying on the platform floor, wrapped tightly in a blanket for the night. With this, Moore turns the image of a female body 'au naturel' one made of bones for an earthly woman, and perhaps goddess - into a figure stretching her limbs through the cloth of a wrapped drape. The effect is perplexing as the figure outlines itself through the continuous line of an undulating profile. Nothing appears contrived, even when Moore hollows the body with invented piercings (breasts). The result is that of a reclining figure in movement, floating in her space (ephemeral), yet grounded to its earthly origins (eternal).
Moores new model for the 'reclining figure' theme brought the artist further away from Futurist and Surrealist influences. Although always closer to the anthropomorphic models of Giorgio de Chirico or Salvador Dali than to the constructivist sculptures of Naum Gabo even though he did create a few of his own own stringed figures just before the War - Moore pursued his interests in the human figure in an increasingly exclusive manner. These interests became obsessive as his concerns now concentrated on, essentially, two main themes: the mother and child and the reclining figure. Both subjects allowed the artist to explore ad infinitum the relationship between Nature and the human figure. Moores non-allegiance to any particular art movement of his time enabled him to revise the aesthetic language of his own work at a pace and a mode chosen by him only.
If Moore was keeping his distance from contemporary artists, he sought resource for creation in the arts of the past. In his numerous commentaries, Moore enjoyed reminiscing on his incalculable visits to the collections of the British Museum in search of understanding and inspiration. His first encounters with Egyptian art eventually lead him to the neighbouring Assyrian reliefs; he further explored the rooms of Greek and Roman art where the human body is treated with varying degrees of realism. It is in these arts that the traditional origins of the Reclining Figure must be understood. The idea of a (partially) draped body in the present work is certainly not without recall to the agitated tanagra figurines (upright) in terracotta of the Hellenistic period, where the movement of the body is so elegantly restrained by the cloth of a tightly wrapped cloak. But then from the Roman river-gods to Michelangelos allegorical figures (male and female) flanking the Tomb of Lorenzo de Medici, Moore chooses to focus on the female figure in an attitude of relaxed awareness, not standing, not sleeping, just reclining. Moores figure does not rest on any bed or triclinium, water-surface or volute. Reclining in all the majesty of her corpulence, Moores figure appears solemn in a body smoothened by a thousand years of erosion from the elements. Exposure to time and the elements - even just air - has polished her limbs and she now lies rounded in her recline, in legitimacy of her own existence. From the traditional image of Venus emerging from the waters in her shell, this female figure exists in perfect fusion with her eroded conch, caught in the Eternity of her own existence, neither rising to a birth nor sinking to a death. If Moores figure rejects any attempt of identification or personification, it is because its own existence is realised by the natural energies of the Elements; stone and substance, space and void, wind and rain. Moores Reclining Figure owes as much to Natures physical fusions as to the artists aesthetic celebration of their creation. And so the figure owes its existence to a silent partnership between Nature and the Artist, a dialogue between invention and inspiration. The aim is no longer the ideal form of the nude, but rather the idea of the human figure.
Moores Reclining Figure of 1945 is the culmination of the artists years of practise for sculpture in the two-dimensional form of the Shelter Drawings and of his 'ideas for sculpture' sketchbooks. With this bronze figure, Moore realises his own liberation from the page as he returns to the three-dimensional forms of sculpture and finds the present figure as his new 'form-idea'. Moore himself juxtaposed the idea of freedom to realise the particular theme of the Reclining figure, as he mentioned in the following words: 'I want to be quite free of having to find a 'reason' for doing the Reclining Figures, and freer still of having to find a 'meaning' for them. The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows [him] to try out all kinds of formal ideas things that he doesnt 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. Its settled for you, and you know it and like it, so that within it, within the subject that youve done a dozen times before, you are free to invent a completely new form-idea.' [see John Russell, Henry Moore, London, 1968, p. 28.]