By the 1960s and ‘70s it seemed that few major public or corporate buildings around the world did not have a Henry Moore sculpture outside. As a young man, in the 1930s, Moore had been highly influential in persuading architects to think of sculpture as more than mere decoration – small works hidden away in niches, high above street level, so distant as to be more or less invisible to passers by.
This Recumbent Figure was commissioned by one convert to Moore’s way of thinking – the Russian-born architect Serge Chermayeff – for the terrace of his own modernist house, Bentley Woods, in Sussex.
Henry Moore talked about Bentley Woods, and about this piece – which is an avant-garde form made from a very traditional stone – in a 1955 film:
‘My figure looked out across a great sweep of the Downs and her gaze gathered in the horizon. The sculpture had no specific relationship to the architecture; it had its own identity and did not need to be on Chermayeff’s terrace. But it so to speak enjoyed being there and I think it introduced a humanising element. It became a mediator between modern house and ageless land. When Chermayeff sold this house and went to live in the United States, the Contemporary Art Society bought the reclining figure and presented it to the Tate Gallery. Now it’s usually indoors, but has occasional airings. But it had a pretty tough experience when it was a wartime refugee in New York. It had been lent to an international exhibition at the New York World Fair, and as it was still there when war broke out, the Museum of Modern Art kindly took it over and exhibited it throughout the war in its sculpture garden. When it came back, it was in a very weather-worn condition, owing to the extremes of heat and cold in New York and its proximity to the sea. But at least I discovered that Hornton, a warm, friendly stone that I like using, isn’t suitable for exposure in intemperate climates.’
Henry Moore talking in the 1955 film ‘Sculpture in the Open Air’, by kind permission of the British Council.