Beech on a beech base
248 x 178 x 121 mm
Bequeathed by E.C. Gregory 1959
Technique and condition
This work was the second sculpture Henry Moore made using beech wood. He would have carved out the shape using wood chisels with or without a mallet (a hammer with a large wooden head), refining the shape with rasps and finally sanding the surface with sandpaper. The inner part of the recessed belly has been sharply defined with a pointed chisel. The surface is mostly smooth, although tool marks, possibly from rasps, are visible on the inside of the arch. Three small holes have been filled, work that may date back to the making of the piece (fig.1).
How to citeRozemarijn van der Molen, 'Technique and Condition', February 2013, in Alice Correia, ‘Figure 1931 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www
Although the location and circumstances in which Figure was carved are unconfirmed, it is likely that it was created at Moore’s studio at 11a Parkhill Road in Hampstead, London. A photograph taken in 1932 of Moore and his wife Irina in this studio shows the completed Figure on a four-legged stool in the mirror, to the left of Irina’s reflection (fig.1).
Figure may be understood as the first in a series of works that contain sexualised subject matter. In 1973 critic John Russell located the eroticism of Figure not so much in the swelling breast-like forms but in the arched recess of the belly. He argued that ‘in giving a Romanesque arch to the diaphragm, Moore looked forward ... to the great Standing Reliefs of the 1950s whose most stirring feature is the enormous commotion, associated in life with a supreme degree of sexual fulfilment, in precisely this region of the body’.32 Russell identified the arched niche as the location of female genitalia and the site of sexual pleasure. Although he identified Figure as a precursor to Moore’s later works, he failed to note that Moore had used the arched niche in earlier sculptures such as Half-Figure No.1 1929 (fig.8). An alternative interpretation of the meaning of the arched spaces in both these works, however, suggests that the cavities signify empty wombs. In 2005 the art historian Anne Wagner related what she identified as Moore’s interest in the barren, empty womb to the recurring themes of mothers, babies, and pregnant women in British sculpture during the 1920s.33 An interesting point of reference in this context is Jacob Epstein’s The Rock Drill 1913–14 (fig.9), a work that Moore would certainly have known. Epstein’s armoured, mechanical figure turns its head over its left shoulder while its left arm arches forward as though protecting the foetus-like amoeba located in the arched recess in its belly.
Sir Michael Sadler and Peter Gregory
In 1959 the Tate Gallery’s ground floor exhibition spaces were redesigned.48 Improvements included the construction of screens which projected outwards into the galleries to create small bays, and the introduction of humidity and temperature control systems. The newly acquired small Figure was included in one of the re-hung galleries alongside Moore’s other sculpture from the Gregory Bequest, Half-Figure (fig.11).
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Figure 1931 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www