Lead on oak base
150 x 280 x 100 mm
Purchased through the Leicester Galleries by the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1940; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1983
Lead cast aside from edition of 4 bronze casts
Technique and condition
How to citeLyndsey Morgan, 'Technique and Condition', October 2011, in Alice Correia, ‘Reclining Figure 1939 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www
The head is u-shaped, with two curving sides suggesting the sides of the head, and a point at the front may be read as a chin (fig.1), but otherwise no facial features have been represented. Together, the head and thick tubular neck are reminiscent of an open, upward thrusting mouth, but when seen from the rear the two sides of the head are reminiscent of insect antenna (fig.2).
The origins of Moore’s fascination with the subject of the reclining figure cannot be pinpointed to a single definitive source. For example, in the catalogue to Moore’s 1968 exhibition at the Tate Gallery, images of a reclining Chacmool, a rain spirit of the ancient Toltec-Mayan culture (fig.4), and Michelangelo’s carvings of allegorical figures in the Medici Chapel in Florence were reproduced under the heading ‘comparative material’. However, the author of the catalogue, the critic David Sylvester, noted that prior to Moore’s trip to Italy in the early 1920s Moore had only made one (male) reclining figure, and that the subject only took hold of Moore’s imagination upon his return. Central to Sylvester’s argument was the importance of Michelangelo’s work, in particular the sculpture Dawn c.1520 (fig.5). Sylvester argued that even when Moore’s figures became more abstract they nonetheless had ‘poses which are the perogative of the Mediterranean tradition’.13
Reclining Figure may be understood as a development of Moore’s earlier Reclining Figure 1929 (fig.7) and Recumbent Figure 1938 (fig.8), which were carved in Brown and Green Hornton stone respectively. Like Reclining Figure both of these earlier sculptures present a female figure lying down with her belly and legs extending from her upright head and shoulders. In all three sculptures the figure rests on an elbow – on the right elbow in the two earlier works and on the left elbow in the 1939 lead sculpture – and her knees are bent. All three have rounded projecting breasts. In the later lead work, however, Moore dispensed with the heavy block-like composition of the 1929 sculpture and accentuated the holes and pierced shapes seen in Recumbent Figure in order to give the 1939 sculpture a sense of movement and fluidity, characteristics which are enhanced by its smoothed polished surfaces.
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Reclining Figure 1939 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www