Henry Moore OM, CH

Maquette for Figure on Steps

1956

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Bronze
Dimensions
Object: 167 x 182 x 163 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994
Reference
T06828

Summary

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.

Further reading:
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

Giorgia Bottinelli
March 2004

Catalogue entry

Entry

Maquette for Figure on Steps 1956 is a small bronze sculpture of a seated female figure on a stepped bronze base. As its title suggests, this work served originally as a preparatory model for a much larger version of the sculpture, designed to be displayed outdoors.
Henry Moore 'Maquette for Figure on Steps' 1956
Fig.1
Henry Moore
Maquette for Figure on Steps 1956
Tate T06828
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Fig.2
Henry Moore
Maquette for Figure on Steps 1956 (side view)
Tate T06828
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The figure sits near the top of the flight of steps and faces forward while her legs extend to her right and her head looks past her left shoulder (fig.1). Moore has arranged the body on a gentle diagonal, which moves from the feet upwards and across the body to the woman’s left shoulder, as if following the trajectory of her gaze. This diagonal composition is exaggerated by the irregular proportions of the figure’s body, in particular the thighs, which are longer than the torso (fig.2). Much of her weight is placed on her left hip and buttock, with the result that her right hip and leg are slightly higher.
Fig.3
1956 Detail of folds on dress of Maquette for Figure on Steps
Tate T06828
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Fig.4
Detail of feet of Maquette for Figure on Steps 1956
Tate T06828
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore
Fig.5
Henry Moore
Maquette for Figure on Steps 1956 (rear view)
Tate T06828
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In contrast to her thin limbs, the woman’s torso is broad and bulky. She wears a sleeveless, knee length dress, the front of which is crinkled and clings to her body (fig.3). Two small breasts are discernable on her chest, which, when seen from the side, leans slightly forward. Her arms are particularly thin and reach backwards behind her torso where her small stump-like hands rest on the top step. The legs are slightly thicker and can be identified beneath the folds of her dress, which sags in the gap between them. Her left leg tucks underneath the right, but they do not touch. Toes have been demarcated by short lines incised into her two paddle-like feet (fig.4). The back of the figure is heavily textured, demonstrating how Moore applied daubs of plaster to the original model from which this bronze was cast (fig.5).

Origins and facture

Sources and precursors

The Kahnweiler Gift

Alice Correia
November 2013

Notes

1
See Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London 1960, p.229.
2
Moore had known Breuer since the 1930s when they both lived in Hampstead, London.
3
Roger Berthoud cited by Julie Summers, ‘Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps 1956’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.253.
4
Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 3: Complete Sculpture 1955–64, 1965, revised edn, London 1986, p.35, no.426.
5
‘Maquette for Figure on Steps LH 426’, Henry Moore sales log book, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
6
Henry Moore quoted in Sculpture in the Open Air, exhibition catalogue, Holland Park, London 1954, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.280.
7
Ionel Jianou, Henry Moore, Paris 1968, p.42.
8
Henry Moore cited in James Johnson Sweeney, Henry Moore, New York 1946, reprinted in Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture, London 1966, p.42.
9
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.121.
10
Ibid., pp.95, 97.
11
Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, reprinted in James 1966, pp.47–8.
12
Henry Moore, Henry Moore at the British Museum, London 1981, p.62.
13
Roger Cardinal, ‘Henry Moore: In the Light of Greece’, in Henry Moore: In the Light of Greece, exhibition catalogue, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros 2000, p.37.
14
John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, 2nd edn, London 1973, p.157.
15
Ibid., p.158.
16
For a full account of the Kahnweiler Gift see Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004.

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