Summary

Seated Figure, 1954, is a pencil drawing of a serene seated woman. It is a clear example of how Moore not only strove for monumentality in his large public sculptures but also tried to imbue the same quality in the small preparatory maquettes he made for them and in his drawings. The drawing is similar in conception to many seated classicising figures that Moore sculpted in the mid-1950s but is not directly related to any of them.

Although the figure itself is solid and impassive, it was drawn in a free-flowing and spontaneous manner. Passages where the figure becomes almost three-dimensional, as if modelled by the strong cross-hatching and deep shading, alternate with areas that Moore sketched roughly, leaving them almost blank.

A few lines suffice to signify the floor, the background and a drape on which the woman is sitting and fix her into a definite space. Seated Figure can be seen to demonstrate Moore’s need to anchor his subject in space, ‘to give it the possibility of an existence beyond the surface of the paper.’ He elaborated: ‘Any wash, smudge, shading, anything breaking the tyranny of the flat plane of the paper, opens up a suggestion, a possibility of SPACE.’ (Undated notes, probably from the early 1950s, quoted in Wilkinson 2000, p.237.)

Although he was already a well-known and highly respected sculptor before the Second World War, it was chiefly thanks to the evocative power and popular appeal of the drawings he made as an official War artist (known as ‘Shelter Drawings’ because they depicted people sheltering in the tunnels of London’s Underground during bombing attacks) that Henry Moore’s fame increased greatly in the late 1940s. The first volume of his catalogue raisonné was published in 1944 and he had his first international retrospective in 1946. In 1948 he received the first prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale. In the 1950s he received more international prizes and several commissions for public work, including sculptures for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Time-Life building in London in 1952 and the new UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 1956 (installed in 1958).

Moore gave Seated Figure as a present to his friends, the collectors Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, who later bequeathed it to Tate. The brother of the Paris-based art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Gustav Kahnweiler had started to collect Moore’s work after the Second World War. He occasionally acted as a private dealer for the artist in Britain and abroad, negotiating the sale of a small number of sculptures both to private collectors and public institutions.

Further reading:
Henry Moore: Sketch-Models and Working-Models, exhibition catalogue, The South Bank Centre, London 1990
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, London 2004, pp.82-7, reproduced p.83

Giorgia Bottinelli
August 2004