Catalogue entry

Henry Moore 1898-1986

T03761 Reclining Figure 1939

Lead 150 x 280 x 100 (5 7/8 x 11 x 4)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Leicester Galleries by the Victoria and Albert Museum 1940 (Circ.17-1940); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov: ... ; Leicester Galleries by February 1940
Exh: New Sculpture and Drawings by Henry Moore, Leicester Galleries, Feb.1940 (60); travelling exhibitions of the Department of Circulation, Victoria and Albert Museum; Art Then: Eight English Artists, 1924-40, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, Edinburgh, Aug.-Sept.1974 (22)
Lit: Alan G. Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, New York and London, 1984, p.286 pl.209. Also repr: Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, 1944, pl.102a; Leigh Ashton, Style in Sculpture, 1947, pl.38; D.Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore: Volume One, Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1948, 1957, p.117, LH202; John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, pl.76

An annotated catalogue in the Henry Moore Foundation archives reveals that number 60 in the Leicester Galleries exhibition in February 1940 was plate 102a in Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, published 1944. The work reproduced as plate 102a, when reproduced in 1944, belonged to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and therefore this confirms that the work exhibited under number 60 in February 1940 is T03761. The six catalogue raisonné volumes of Moore's complete sculpture have been published by Lund Humphries, and Moore sculptures are referred to by their LH number in this entry. The Lund Humphries catalogue raisonné volumes present Moore's work chronologically, with an ascending series of arabic numbers for each sculpture. A concordance in the back of the fourth edition of the first volume of Moore's complete sculpture, revised for publication in 1957, matches up earlier plate numbers with the established LH catalogue numbers. Thus plate 102a was converted to LH202 in the 1957 edition.

Prior to a series of lead figures made during 1938-40, there are only three works in lead in Moore's oeuvre; they are ‘Mask' 1929, LH72 (repr. Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, pl.99a), ‘Seated Figure' 1930, LH81 (repr. ibid., pl.99b) and ‘Reclining Figure' 1931, LH101 (repr. ibid., pl.100. The plate numbers for these three works reveal their earlier numbers before they were converted in 1957 to their present LH ones). Of these three works in lead, all are believed to have been cast in a foundry, most probably either Gaskin or Fiorini, since both of these were used by Moore. The series of lead figures made during 1938-40, of which T03761 is a significant example, differ from the three earlier ones because Moore cast the later ones himself. When the first volume of Moore's sculpture was published in 1944, his work to that date was divided into categories, demarcated by their techniques. This revealed that he had made fifty-six works in stone, fourteen works in terracotta and concrete, eighteen works in wood, thirteen works with strings, and fourteen works in metal. The metal category consisted of three plasters, two of which were destroyed and one was awaiting casting into bronze, and eleven lead pieces. These were LH72 ‘Mask', LH81 ‘Seated Figure' and LH101 ‘Reclining Figure', along with five reclining figures, including T03761, ‘Three Points',’The Helmet' and ‘Figure-interior of The Helmet'. The division of Moore's work up to 1944 into technical categories was not a satisfactory one (and in fact was abandoned in the revised edition of the volume in 1957) because it contained inaccuracies and confusions. In the category of stringed works, seven used lead as the main form, rather than wood, but these five did not get listed in the metal category. Thus the total number of works in lead which Moore most probably cast himself between the years 1938-40 numbers sixteen. Fourteen of these including T03761 were shown in his New Sculpture and Drawings exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in February 1940.

No firm reason has been put forward to explain why Moore suddenly started in 1938 to initiate his own lead casting. He was teaching two days a week at Chelsea School of Art, and living at 11a Parkhill Road, Hampstead, London. He also had a bungalow called Burcroft with five acres of land at Marley, near Kingston, Kent, which he had bought in the summer of 1935. Two possible reasons are an increase in working space, especially outdoor working space which the land at Burcroft provided, and the help of another pair of hands. Bernard Meadows, still a sculpture student at Norwich School of Art, was taken on by Moore for four years in the summer of 1936 as his first full-time assistant. Meadows worked with Moore in Kent during the summer vacations and remembers casting lead pieces during the summer months of 1938 and 1939. Meadows then stayed on alone at Burcroft in the winter holidays of 1938 and 1939 working on the lead casts.

Lead is one of the easiest metals to work with due to its low melting point. Also when the molten metal has been poured into the mould, it stays molten longer than bronze and therefore is less prone to crack under stress when cooling. Lead statuary, dating from Egyptian, Greek and Roman times and on through the middle ages to the garden figures of 17th and 18th century England, has been of two kinds; small, solid objects or sheets, sometimes with pierced or raised decorations, joined to make a three-dimensional figure. The easiest of these two processes is to make small solid objects, and this is the path Moore took. In a conversation with the compiler on 9 December 1987 from which all first-hand information about Moore's lead casts is taken, Meadows recalled how, once Moore had decided to cast in lead, he sought technical information both from a foundry and from the local blacksmith, who encouraged him to use bellows with his kiln. The metal came from lengths of lead armature piping used at Chelsea School of Art, and Moore also decided to melt down one of his earlier lead figures, the ‘Seated Figure' of 1930. Only the head of this figure still remains, in a private collection. Meadows remembered that the lead piping caused a bloom to come on the figures, which had to be eradicated, but this problem could not have been foreseen.

Moore most probably modelled the original figure of T03761 in solid wax. In Henry Moore on Sculpture, (Philip James [ed.], 1966) Moore revealed what he had learnt from his spell of lead casting:

in making my lead sculptures of 1938, '39 and '40 ... I had then found that I could jump the early stage of casting by making my original sculpture directly in wax. Now, working direct in wax has many possibilities, since wax has a toughness about it that will allow you to do very thin couldn't clay, nor in plaster, without awful trouble...By working direct in wax, one was able to make shapes and forms much thinner and more open then ever you could have done direct in plaster. Doing my own metal casting led me to doing those (pp.137 and 139).

Meadows believes that the wax used for T03761 and the other lead figures of 1938-40 was beeswax, bought from Boots the Chemist. Meadows and Moore improvised a kiln in the field belonging to Burcroft, building a tunnel-like structure incorporating a domestic terra-cotta fireback. A fire was built in this structure, with Meadows working the bellows, and the success of this procedure depended largely on the wind direction at the time. The plaster mould containing the wax original was placed to the side of the fire, in the kiln, and made ready, by the evaporation of the wax, to receive the molten lead. The lead was melted down in a large domestic saucepan, one of Irina Moore's, over a primus stove in the studio. The main consideration was whether the saucepan handle could withstand the weight of the lead when the saucepan was lifted and carried outside to the mould for the pouring of the molten metal. T03761 was poured end on, probably only utilising one ‘runner' and one ‘riser'. These are the names for the cylindrical stems of wax which are fixed to the sculpture before the mould is made around it, so that when they melt away, they leave channels down which the molten metal can run and up which excess air can escape. Runners and risers leave marks where they have been attached to the cast figure, and these have to be chased away. Meadows remembered that the chasing of the lead figures after casting was a laborious process. Large excess shapes were removed with metal files, but then for a more delicate finish, the files have to be abandoned in favour of polishing by hand. Emery or sand-paper cannot be used because the emery works itself into the surface of the lead. Meadows knew of a carpenter who suggested that sharkskin was a very good polishing agent, so a sharkskin was obtained and used. Lead dust causes a very fine black powder to settle on the polisher's face and hands and Meadows remembered that he often had a black face when polishing pieces like T03761.

Alan Wilkinson, in his The Drawings of Henry Moore, states that: ‘The importance of Henry Moore's drawings for sculpture cannot be over-estimated. Few great sculptors have left through their drawings such an extensive record of the genesis of so many sculptures. Between 1921 and the early 1950s almost all Moore's most important carvings and bronzes, as well as many lesser works, had their origin in the notebook pages' (p.248). Wilkinson then discusses all known and related drawings from which sculptures were actually made. T03761 has an entry under LH202 which reads ‘The only known drawing in which this sculpture appears is "Project for Sculpture in Lead" of 1938. [Wilkinson reproduces this drawing as plate 209, and gives its details as 15 x 22 ins, pen, chalk and watercolour, private collection.] It is almost certainly a drawing of the sculpture. No record has survived of the original drawing for the sculpture.' His entry raises a problem. If the drawing is from rather than for the sculpture T03761, how can it have a date of a year earlier than the date given for the execution of the sculpture? Certainly the drawing, which is signed and dated, does look quite a finished piece with the lead reclining figure commanding the foreground with two coulisse-like structures behind to set it off. The drawing does not have the feverish scribble or sets of variations on a theme which are the characteristics of sketchbook pages where Moore is working out ideas for conversion into three-dimensional form.

David Sylvester, in one of the most significant early articles on Moore's work, entitled ‘The Evolution of Henry Moore's Sculpture: 1' and printed in the Burlington Magazine for July 1948, distinguished four periods in Moore's oeuvre to date; a first period up to 1930 in which he effected a synthesis between naturalistic and Pre-columbian styles, a second period from 1930-2 which Sylvester called ‘humanist', a third period of c.1933-7 in which the works ‘...are fantasias composed of forms each of which represents or evokes various species of objects in some respect similar in shape. These objects are bones, shells, pebbles, rocks and caves, birds and fishes, and, above all, isolated organs or fragments of the human body' (p.159), and a fourth period from 1938 which ‘saw not only the evolution of man from the primeval forms of the fantasias, but the start of an extensive use of concave shapes, in Moore's phrase, ‘opening-out the forms' (p.163). T03761 is a good example of a work from this fourth period, with two holes opening up the form, one between the female figure's legs and the other in the shape made by the left arm leaving and then rejoining the body, and a concave shape created by the spur of the flattened breasts overhanging a scooped out upper torso. A small concave depression is cut into the overhanging left breast. Another work with similar formal characteristics to T03761, those of two holes opening up the body and a shelf created by the bulk of the breasts, is the ‘Reclining Figure' carved in elm of 1936 (LH 175, repr. Henry Moore: Volume One, Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1948, 1957, pp.110 and 111).

T03761 is a unique cast in lead. Three casts in bronze of T03761 are in the collection of the British Council, nos. P28, P29 and P284. P28 was the first to be accessioned in March 1948. There is a further bronze cast in the collection of Mrs Irina Moore. These casts have no inscriptions.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.538-40