Catalogue entry

T02054 FOUR-PIECE COMPOSITION: RECLINING FIGURE 1934

Not inscribed
Cumberland alabaster, 6 7/8 × 18 × 8 (17.5 × 45.7 × 20.3)
Purchased from the Mayor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the National Art-Collections Fund, 1976
Prov: The artist to 1946; Mrs Culver Orswell, Rhode Island, U.S.A.; Curt Valentin Gallery, New York; Martha Jackson Collection, New York, 1955–73; Mayor Gallery; private collection, London; Mayor Gallery
Exh: 7 & 5, Zwemmer Gallery, October 1935 (7, repr); in Henry Moore's view probably in Henry Moore, Leicester Galleries, November 1936 (19), as ‘Composition’ (Cumberland alabaster); Henry Moore, Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 1946–March 1947 (29, repr.), and tour to Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco Museum of Art, April–August 1947; Closing Exhibition, Curt Valentin Gallery, New York, June 1955 (141), as ‘Four Piece Composition’; Henry Moore Stone and Wood Carvings, Marlborough Fine Art, June–July 1961 (43, repr.); Henry Moore, Tate Gallery, July–September 1968 (34, two views repr., plates 4 and 86); Martha Jackson Collection, Seibu Department Store, Tokyo, September 1971 (repr.); A Loan Exhibition in Memory of Fred Hoyland Mayor, Mayor Gallery, November–December 1973 (16, repr.); Henry Moore, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, May–August 1977 (21, repr.; in addition to a reproduction in the main body of the catalogue, the last four pages are devoted to a presentation of T02054 by progressive selective enlargement of a single photograph, culminating in a detail featuring the smallest of the four elements, on the catalogue's back cover); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1978 (14–29, repr.)
Lit: Geoffrey Grigson, “Comment on England”, in Axis, 1, January 1935, pp.9–10 (where repr. as ‘Carving’ 1934); Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, 1960, p.46 (repr. pl.22 and incorrectly stated to belong to Sir Herbert Read); David Sylvester, catalogue of 1968 Tate Gallery exhibition cited above (pp.6, 93); Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, 1974 (unpublished thesis submitted to the Courtauld Institute, University of London, 1974); Alan Wilkinson, catalogue of The Drawings of Henry Moore, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, November–December 1977 and tour to Japan and Britain ending at the Tate Gallery, June–August 1978 (repr.); Anna Gruetzner, ‘Henry Moore’ in catalogue of Unit 1, Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery, May–July 1978, p.8
Repr.: Herbert Read (intod.) Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings 1944, pl.43a, 43b [and D. Sylvester, ed., ibid., 4th, completely revised edition, 1957, p.91]; Herbert Read, Henry Moore, 1965, pl.67; Henry Moore and John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, 1968, p.77; John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, pl.53; Robert Melville, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings, 1921–69, 1970, No.105

The following account has been approved by Henry Moore. Where no source for a statement is cited, it is based on Henry Moore's replies to questions in conversation on 19 May and 13 June 1978.

This work is No. 154 in the catalogue of Moore's sculptures. Executed in Moore's studio at Parkhill Road, Hampstead in 1934 (probably towards the end of the year), it has a particularly close relationship to the reinforced concrete ‘Four-Piece Composition’ made earlier in 1934, which is No. 140 in the catalogue of Moore's sculpture (and of which a bronze edition was subsequently cast). However in this earlier work two of the four pieces are joined, whereas in the Tate's sculpture each is a discrete whole.

Herbert Read (ed.) Unit 1, 1934 includes a long statement by Henry Moore about his aims as a sculptor (pp.29–30). Although the subject of this statement is Moore's work of that time in general, it is relevant in remarkable detail to ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ of the same year. Moore's ideas are summarized under the headings ‘Truth to material’, ‘Full three-dimensional realisation’, ‘Observation of Natural Objects’, ‘Vision and expression’ (which concerns his attitude to abstraction) and ‘Vitality and Power of Expression’.

In an idea closely related to that of the sculptor's direct response to the nature of his or her materials through carving (which Henry Moore describes as having been ‘almost a religion’ to them at the time), the circle of which he was a part believed that the sculptor should where possible use material that came from his own country—to this degree, that is to say, the material that came to hand direct. The Victoria and Albert, Natural History, Science and Geological Museums were all close to the Royal College of Art where Moore studied and taught, and he found sources of inspiration for his own work in each of these museums. Pursuing indigenous English materials, he investigated at the Geological Museum samples of stones which, although they were used for building in their locality of origin, could be found there only in such small quantities that they were not generally available and thus were not conventional materials for carving. It was in this way that he discovered Hornton stone, of which he pioneered the use as a material for sculpture (it appealed to him in part because even when a work had just been completed, the stone did not look new). Similarly (for example on holiday at Happisburgh with Barbara Hepworth and others in the early 1930s when they found ironstone), he would look for suitable carving materials in the landscape. Within Henry Moore's circle, Cumberland alabaster was discovered by the sculptor John Skeaping, to whom a Cumberland farmer showed nodules and odd pieces which had been ploughed up on his land. Moore bought eight or nine rough blocks from this farmer, who sent them to him in London in parcels. He worked in this material during the period 1930–5. He had started using alabasters of various kinds in the late 1920s, but among alabasters he preferred Cumberland because of its greater density and because of the absence from it of the translucency that is characteristic of alabaster in general. These reasons for preferring it related to the importance for Moore of the character of the surface of a material as a means of asserting form; the waxen surfaces of the sculptures of Medardo Rosso exemplified for him a blurring of that kind of verifiable, defined reality which he sought to give to form by means (among others) of the direct exposure of hard material through explicit visual and tactile location of its surface. He considered that a successful carving must achieve an effective marriage between roughness and smoothness (both of them elements of reality), a degree of smoothness being essential in order that the form of the work should ‘project’, and a degree of roughness no less essential in order that the physical reality of the material should declare itself and its surface be clearly located by the viewer in space. To this end, a textured surface was preferable, ‘blank’ surfaces in this sense being difficult to focus on. One important reason why incisions were employed in this work, therefore, was the exceptional smoothness of the material (which over the years has become, through handling, smoother still). Lines incised in this alabaster leave a white mark, as on glass; they show up as surface. Moore used them to give a focal point to the surface and thus, in turn, more tellingly to establish the three-dimensionality of the particular reality he was creating in this work. A further purpose of the incisions (which are preponderantly linear) was to give a movement to the ensemble. While the configurations formed by the incisions were not intended to represent parts of the body explicitly, they definitely carried, in Moore's mind, figurative implications; these are discussed below. In Moore's work the principal inspiration for incised marks (which by 1934 he had been using for several years) was so-called primitive art seen in museums, notably including Paleolithic bone engravings. In these Paleolithic works, the line is dark by comparison with the ground into which it is incised. Moore did not want his own incised marks to look very new against the dark alabaster (which he knew would grow still darker through handling). In combination with his response to the Paleolithic engravings, this instinct led him to darken, once made, the marks he had incised. One or two photographs may exist showing the work before the incisions were definitively darkened in 1934. Moore wanted them to be dark but not emphatically so. To achieve this he thinks his likely means were either pencil or the end of a burnt match (he smoked a lot then), rubbed into the line to produce a matt effect.

At the same time as he was making ‘Four-Part Composition: Reclining Figure’, Moore was working on two other sculptures composed of discrete forms in Cumberland alabaster (‘Head and Ball’ 1934 and ‘Bird and Egg’ 1934), each of which uses two pieces rather than four, and for each of which he made a stone base of the same distinctive general shape as that for the Tate's work. ‘Four-Part Composition: Reclining Figure’ was almost Moore's last work in Cumberland alabaster. He decided to stop using it partly because so many peoples' enthusiastic response to works he made in it was to the beauty of the material, to the exclusion of an understanding of the works' essential - i.e. their sculptural - character.

With the possible exception of the (very different) ‘Four Forms’ 1936, the Tate's alabaster was also his most extreme expression in sculpture for more than twenty years after 1934 of the human figure as an ensemble of separate forms. It thus marked the completion of one phase in his continued investigation of the three-dimensional nature of sculpture. Along with other closely-related several-part sculptures of 1934 such as ‘Three-piece carving’ and ‘Three forms’, it marked a simplification of the problem of establishing with maximum effectiveness the integral relationship between form and space. These early multi-part works were part of Moore's development away from the dominance in a sculpture of the idea - the feeling - of the single block, with which, after years' involvement, he had grown wearied and which he did not wish should remain present in the final state of a work. It was in part a reaction against the Brancusian insistence on unitary form. Moore's movement away from this had begun with the penetration of the block by a hole which connected the opposite sides of a sculpture, but by 1934 he had moved beyond this to a stage where, beginning to be conscious that form and space are the same thing, he wanted to give the sculpture its own breathing space. He felt it was necessary to understand the space that a form displaces in air, which involved much more than a concern predominantly with its front and back, requiring that all its aspects be expressed equally. If this were not the case, a sculpture was in effect a relief, or at least gave, as it were, the appearance of form without its reality. Thus at this time, inseparably from his interest in a work's mass and elevation, he grew increasingly interested in its plan.

With the concept of a sculpture as consisting of several parts, he was able to work more experimentally, altering the distances between elements. He describes the Cumberland alabaster ‘Head and Ball’ 1934 as ‘pure experiment over distance’.

It is this concern which explains the distinctive character of the purpose-carved stone bases of the Tate's work and of the two other Cumberland alabaster works of the same year. He gave these works bases of an irregular design in order the more clearly to articulate those relationships in space (between a single sculpture's discrete elements) with which he was so particularly concerned. In plan, a rectangular base is like a picture frame; it contains the work. Wishing to make the sense of space a determining element in each of these sculptures, Moore decided to reverse, to a degree, this sense of container and contained by allowing the positioning of the elements - their outspread across a surface - to determine the plan of the base. The relationship of the sculpture's forms in space depends crucially on their relationship to the surface on which they rest. He thus wished to give this surface maximum reality in its own right. This wish not only contributed to his decision to give its outer limits a more particular sense of definition than a simple rectangle would have had, but also led to his making the base unusually thick, so as to raise the surface to view as a distinctive element in itself. ‘A thin base would have been silly.’ Although the base normally rests in turn on a pedestal or other support, it is intended to have, to a degree, itself the function of a pedestal. Moore describes the relationship between ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ and its base as being akin to that between a Seurat painting and the painted frame made for it by the artist (which while not itself the picture is a vital element in its presentation).

At least two sheets of drawings by Moore, each containing numerous images, relate exceptionally closely to ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’. In ‘Drawing for Four-Piece Composition’ 1934 (coll: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Acc. No.74/120; repr. Wilkinson, 1974, op. cit., plate 188) the two images closet to the Tate's sculpture are drawn one above the other at bottom right of the sheet; Wilkinson writes that the lower of these ‘is the definitive study for L.H. 154, in which the four parts, the head, the ball, and the two arched forms have been brought together. In the carving one of these arched forms rests on its side’ (op.cit., 1974). ‘Sheet of Studies for Several Piece Composition’ 1934 (coll: Henry Moore Foundation; repr. Wilkinson 1977, op. cit., No.102) is variously inscribed by Moore ‘head end of several piece’, ‘legs for several piece sculpture’, ‘body and one leg or body alone’, etc. As Wilkinson comments (ibid.), the images in this sheet ‘show the way in which Moore made separate studies of the various dismembered parts of the human anatomy he intended using’, though excluding the small pebble-like form. However, three of the several drawings in the top half of the upper left quadrant of this sheet (reproduced indistinctly in the 1977 catalogue) ‘in which the component parts are arranged together on a base ... include a small circular form, which was included in the carving itself’.

The particular forms in the Tate's sculpture were developed very much from the mental conception of the work which Moore had formed before he began to carve it (and had adumbrated on paper), and not from shapes which the rough lumps of the alabaster suggested before carving began. Indeed the alabaster in its pre-carved state did not at all resemble any of the four forms which Moore finally made. Even the smallest or pebble-like element was made by removing and refining a small piece from a larger lump of the alabaster. Moore simply cut all the parts of the alabaster to fit the idea; as it was a soft material, this was very easy to do.

Other drawings of the period which are extremely close in one way or another to the Tate's sculpture are ‘Study for a reclining figure as a four-piece composition’ 1934 (repr. 1957 monograph, op. cit., p.192), ‘Ideas for Sculpture’ 1934 (repr. ibid., p.193), which appears to include a five-part sculpture on a single base, ‘Reclining figure’ 1933 (repr. ibid., p.190 and Wilkinson, 1977, No.99) which by comparison with the others is relatively naturalistic but is nevertheless made of separate elements, and ‘Page from sketchbook - drawings for wood constructions’ 1934 (repr. David Mitchinson, Henry Moore Unpublished Drawings, Turin, 1971, No.101).

Although multi-part sculptures with more than four parts were adumbrated in at least one of Moore's drawings of this period, the extreme point of dismemberment in his actual sculptures which was reached in ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ in fact led not to greater dismemberment but to form-in-space being realised still more fully through the medium of works in which all parts are interconnected to make a single form. Moore cites as a key example in this development his ‘Reclining Figure’ 1951 (bronze, 90ins long; No.293 in the catalogue of his sculptures, and T02270 in Tate Gallery collection), about which he states that after the ‘Four-Piece Composition; Reclining Figure’ it is not until this work that he can identify among his sculptures a figure where the spaces are as fully considered as the forms.

A further reason why Moore did not carry dismemberment of sculptural form any further than the four parts employed in ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ was that doing so would in his view have run the risk of the viewer losing track of the fundamental subject of this and all his work, the human figure. Even in this relatively highly abstract phase of his development, Moore regarded the human body as the basis of everything, and considered it essential that the sculptor should not cut contact with reality in this sense. Indeed although this very work was, through its formal characteristics, one of Moore's most abstract works up to that time, one of his aims in adopting this degree of dismemberment was, paradoxically, actually to reinforce the figurative theme. By dismembering, he aimed to intensify for the viewer the sense that each individual component of the body created here occupies a particular position in space in relation to the others. In spreading them out across a surface in the way that was made possible by the use of separate elements to compose a single work, he aimed to intensify the bodily analogy by recreating the way in which limbs, like branches and other organisms in nature, find their own space in which to exist.

In the 1968 book with John Hedgecoe, Moore wrote of ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ (p.77) ‘I am using space in this four-piece reclining figure, in which there is the head part, the leg part, the body, and the small round form, which is the umbilicus and which makes a connection.’ The incised marks occur on only one side of the sculpture; the figure is represented as reclining facing in that direction. The tallest form represents not only the head but also the top part of the body, including the arms; indeed it is ‘nearly a body in itself’. The rear or ‘boomerang’-shaped element is a mixture of body and leg, the leg being conceived as resting flat on the ground bent at the knee, which is at the very back. The upright element which makes an arch over one end of this long rear form represents the other leg, also bent at the knee; its widest part (nearest to the small pebble-like element) is the bone of the thigh.

The large curved declivity carved out of the upper part of the head element was introduced in order to counter the excessive abstractness and simplicity of form which Moore had so far given this part of the sculpture. If he had left it as a complete round flattish ball, it would, he felt, have seemed too isolated. ‘It needed some life putting into it.’ (This motif of the head with a hollowed-out upper central area has been used by Moore in numerous works. The large ‘Reclining Figure’ of 1951 is a conspicuous example, and he even relates its use in the Tate's 1934 alabaster to the ‘head’ element - ‘hollowed like a horned head’ -in the 1964 'Moon Head, Tate Gallery T02297, which is sometimes known as ‘Head and Hand’.)

In the Tate's alabaster, this large declivity carries to some extent the implication of a mouth. But with it and with the incised marks, Moore was making ‘a free use of human attributes’, so as not to leave the work as a kind of form-exercise, and in order to reinforce the work's essentially figurative character. Thus although these motifs are not intended to be pinned down to hard and fast particular readings, the upper circle incised in the ‘head’ element is ‘like an eye’, and the circle (penetrated by a line) in the centre of the low-lying rear element ‘could be a second umbilicus’. The umbilicus was important to Moore as a symbol, for it represented the connection of our life with other life. It was therefore his habit to indicate it specifically in most of his figurative sculptures. Both of the kinds of umbilicus motif used in ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ recur in Moore's work of this period. Although in the Tate's work the incised version is perhaps the less specific of the two, he draws attention to representation of the umbilicus in a similar way in the Blue Hornton stone ‘Composition’ of 1931, by an incised design of an upright ovoid crossed by a horizontal line. The ‘pebble’ element which represents the umbilicus specifically in the Tate's sculpture occurred in a number of Moore's sculptures around this time, including four very closely-related works all of 1934 - the other four-part sculpture of that year; ‘Head and Ball’; ‘Three Forms’; and ‘Three-piece Carving’.

Moore regarded the relatively small dimensions of ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ as imposing no restriction on its potentiality for expressing a monumental feeling. His intention was that the viewer should be able to have the sense of the forms being any size his or her imagination suggested; the work's actual scale did not determine its imaginative scale. All the artists he most admired imbued their works naturally with a monumental sense, a quality which he considered an artist either did or did not possess from the first, it being something that could not be learned. Henry Moore himself has in the past identified a number of works by other artists as having influenced his evolution in the early 1930s towards works like ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’, and writers have suggested others. Shown photographs of the works in question, he confirmed that in varying degrees the following had all been influential on his evolution in such a way as to have contributed something to works such as the Tate's 1934 carving, but that he would not pick out any of them as having had special significance for it in particular. In no special order, these works are Giacometti's drawings for sculpture with accompanying texts, under the title ‘Objets Mobiles et Muets’, repr. Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution, No.3, 1931, pp.18–19; Giacometti, ‘Woman with her Throat Cut’ 1932, repr. catalogue of 1968 Moore exhibition at Tate Gallery; Arp, ‘Bell and Navels’ 1931 (repr, ibid.); Picasso, two pages from An Anatomy 1933, and ‘Drawing: Project for a Monument’ 1928 (repr. ibid.) [these and other Picassos cited represent types of work of this kind by Picasso]; Picasso, dismembered - figure drawings of 1932, some in the form of crucifixions (repr. Zervos, Vol.8, 1957, Plates 53, 54, 55); Picasso, figure paintings of 1931 and 1932 in which the bodies are made up of separate elements generically resembling those in the Tate's 1934 sculpture (repr. Cahiers d'Art 1932 pp.173–6, 178, 189); Arp, ‘Head with Annoying Objects’ 1930 (repr. Cahiers d'Art 1933).

Asked whether, or to what extent, he regarded ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ as a Surrealist work, Moore replied by recalling that in 1934, when the break-up of Unit I was reflecting the increasing conflict being felt in Britain between the two divergent directions of modern art, he felt that there was no reason why an artist should have to choose between a rational and an irrational approach, since it was of the nature of art that both were always present in the creation of work. As explained above, this four-piece carving involved a high degree of conscious control, including a concern, among others, with formal properties; but in a work ‘there must be gaps that you can't explain, there must always be a jump’, and this was certainly so in this case.

At some point after it left Moore's possession, ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ was removed from its original stone base and mounted on another of different specifications and material. In 1972, at the request of the owners, Moore made the present base as a replica of the original one. He placed the original four elements as near as possible to their original positions on the basis of his own photographs of the sculpture taken when it was new. At some point after this sculpture was completed in 1934, and before its acquisition by the Tate, the low-lying ‘boomerang’-shaped element was broken and repaired. This accounts for the slender line of junction between the two different pieces of alabaster which now make up this single form, and which is so prominent a feature of the five-part reproduction of the sculpture in the 1977 Paris catalogue (op.cit.). The exact form of the base, and the composition and positioning of all the elements in the sculpture when acquired by the Tate Gallery, have been fully approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979