This work is the original plaster from which was cast the bronze sculpture commissioned from Moore by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The bronze was exhibited on the Festival site on the South Bank in London and was one of a number of works of art specially commissioned for the Festival from contemporary artists. Moore has indicated that he regards this sculpture as a key work in his oeuvre: 'The "Festival Reclining Figure" is perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other. I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional. In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and form are so naturally fused that they are one.' This statement touches on one of the most fundamental formal issues in Moore's art, the use of space. Through his lifelong preoccupation with this he evolved a formal language unique in art to embody his equally unique vision of the feminine principle. An early milestone in this evolution was Moore's physical separation of the components of the body into two or more parts, an extreme example of which is 'Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure', 1934 [Tate Gallery T02054]. He did not pursue this development however until he began to produce very large multi-part recumbent figures in the 1960s. Rather, he began increasingly to open out the figure by piercing it with holes which, he said 'connects one side with the other, making it immediately more three-dimensional.' He stressed that 'A hole can have as much shape meaning as a solid mass', and spoke of 'The mystery of the hole - the mysterious fascination of caves in hillsides and cliffs'. A major example of this phase in which the holes are 'features in themselves' is 'Recumbent Figure' of 1938, in the Tate Gallery. He then rapidly evolved the more complex and unified interplay between solid form and space which reached a culmination in this work. These formal relationships in Moore's work and their possible meanings have been fascinatingly discussed by the analytical psychologist Erich Neumann. Commenting on the view of 'Reclining Figure' [from the side where the head of the figure is seen to the right], he writes: 'Jagged, wild, charged with sinister energy, this recumbent figure is more like the destroying goddess of 1939'. His reference is to one of the earliest of these more fluidly opened out figures, done about the time of the outbreak of war in late 1939. Neumann sees this opening out as making the work 'ghostly' and 'spectral' and links it to Moore's 'experience of war and death'. Moore's feminine image, or archetype, now appears 'as a spectral death goddess.' However. this is only one side of the 1951 figure. Viewed from the other side it restates Moore's early vision of the 'Great Mother'. This view 'emphasises, in its clear outlines and ponderous massiveness, the "closed" quality of organic form, and the great sweeping line sketches the picture of a woman who ... is bound quietly and steadfastly to the earth'. It is perhaps from the combination of these two aspects that this work derives its great presence. It might also be seen as reflecting the idea of the Festival of Britain as a turning point in the spirit of post-war British life.
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.203