Stylistically related to Tate’s Draped Reclining Woman, 1957-8 (T06825), Maquette for Figure on Steps is a model for the large bronze sculpture Draped Seated Woman, 1957-8 and was cast in an edition of ten. It depicts a majestic figure in repose covered in classicising drapery, which lends it an air of timelessness. Moore’s interest in drapery as a sculptural element dates back to the Second World War when, as an official ‘war artist’, he made drawings of people huddled in the bomb shelters that had been improvised in London’s Underground tunnels. His first visit to Greece in 1951, where he saw classical studies of draped figures, strengthened this interest and, as a result, he made a number of figures wearing draped clothing throughout the 1950s. Moore came to believe that drapery can make the shape of a figure both more expressive and more sculptural. In 1954 he stated, ‘Drapery can emphasise the tension in a figure, for where the form pushes outwards ... it can be pulled tight across the form (almost like a bandage), and by contrast with the crumpled slackness of the drapery which lies between the salient points, the pressure from inside is intensified.’ (Quoted in Wilkinson, 2002, p.280.)
At the beginning of his career Moore worked mostly in stone. Subscribing to the modernist ethos of ‘truth to material’, his early pieces were carved directly, and not made from models by assistants. However, in the mid-1930s he began to vary his approach, often making clay maquettes that he would use to create the final work. Moore eventually moved on to casting his work in bronze as well as carving it in stone or wood. Liberated from the constraints of carving, the artist almost entirely eliminated drawing from his working process by the mid-1950s and explored his ideas through small maquettes. These had an intrinsic quality of immediacy or spontaneity and allowed him to imagine the finished product in the round. In 1968 he said, ‘with the kind of sculpture I do now, I need to know it from on top and from underneath as well as from all sides. And so I prefer to work out my ideas in the form of small maquettes which I can hold in my hand and look at from every point of view.’ (Quoted in Wilkinson, 2002, p.239.) In order to translate the scale of the work more effectively from portable to over life-size, he often made larger working models as an intermediate stage between the maquette and the finished sculpture.
Moore’s maquettes were typically cast in bronze in editions of up to ten. The sculptor strove for monumentality in his work and tried to imbue the same quality in the small maquettes. He also took a great deal of care with their finish. Some were more polished than others, some darker, some greener. Moore did all the patination himself, treating the bronze with different acids to achieve different effects then working on it by hand, rubbing and wearing it down.
Henry Moore: Maquettes and Working Models, exhibition catalogue, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City 1987
Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002
Giorgia Bottinelli, ‘Henry Moore’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.82-7, reproduced p.85 in colour