Henry Moore OM, CH

Reclining Figure


In Tate Britain
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Plaster and string
Object: 1054 x 2273 x 892 mm, 271 kg
Presented by the artist 1978

Display caption

In the late 1940s, the Arts Council invited Moore to submit ideas for a sculpture to be sited at the South Bank site of the Festival of Britain. Although the organising committee suggested a family theme, Moore chose to make this tense, skeletal reclining form. The work on display is the plaster model for the bronze, which was cast in an edition of five.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Plaster, 41 1/2 × 89 1/2 × 35 1/8 (105.5 × 227 × 89)
Presented by the artist 1978
Exh: Henry Moore: an exhibition of Sculpture from 1950–1960, Whitechapel Art Gallery, December 1960–January 1961 (3, bronze cast repr.); Henry Moore Sculptures et Dessins, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, May–August 1977 (60, repr.); The Henry Moore Gift, Tate Gallery, June–August 1978, repr.p.27
Lit: Sculpture and Drawings by Henry Moore, Tate Gallery, May–July 1951 (catalogue by David Sylvester) pp.14–15; Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, 1959, pp.108–9; Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, 1960, p.53; Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture, 1966, pp.101, 118 (bronze repr.pl.37, 38); David Sylvester, catalogue of Henry Moore, Tate Gallery, July–September 1968, p.53; John Hedgecoe and Henry Moore, Henry Moore, 1968, pp.188, 197, 263; John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, pp.125–7; Robert Melville, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1969, 1970, p.167; Mary Banham and Bevis Hillier (ed.), A Tonic to the Nation, 1976, pp.83, 182 (a photograph of the artist working on the plaster repr. p.56); Alan G. Wilkinson, catalogue of The Drawings of Henry Moore, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, November–December 1977, and tour to Japan and at Tate Gallery, June–August 1978, p.43; Alan G. Wilkinson, The Moore Collection in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1979, pp.114–16 (four views of plaster cast repr.)
Repr: Elda Fezzi, Henry Moore, Florence, 1971, pl.15 (detail, in colour); Giulio Carlo Argan, Henry Moore, Milan, 1971, pl.105

This work is the original plaster from which the bronze (Lund Humphries 293), commissioned by the Arts Council for the Festival of Britain and exhibited on the South Bank in the summer of 1951, was cast. An edition of five bronzes was made; the cast shown on the South Bank was loaned to Leeds City Art Gallery after the Festival and placed in the grounds of Temple Newsam House, where it was vandalised during the night of 3–4 November 1953. In 1956 it was removed from public view and in 1961 lent to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Its ownership was later transferred to the Scottish Arts Council who presented it to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1969. Another bronze cast is in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. The Moore Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario, owns a plaster cast taken, with the artist's permission, from the original plaster by one of Moore's assistants for use by the British Council in their exhibitions of Moore's work which toured Europe, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa between 1953 and 1959.

The ‘Reclining Figure’ is based on sketches (L.H. vol.2, pl.100) and maquettes executed in 1950 (L.H. 292a, b and 292). The relationship of T02270 to the earlier ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure’ 1934 (T02054) is discussed in the Tate Gallery's Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions for 1976–8, p.120: in particular, the way dismemberment or separation of solid forms leads in Moore's work to the opening out of a single unified form in space such as is realised for the first time in the 1951 ‘Reclining Figure’. In the 1968 book with John Hedgecoe, op. cit., Moore mentions the sculpture as being one of a group of key works in his oeuvre. ‘The “Festival Reclining Figure”’, he wrote, ‘is perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other. I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional. In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and form are so naturally fused that they are one.’ (p.188). In conversation with the compiler (12 December 1980), the artist repeated his stated belief that ‘form and space are one and the same thing’ and that ‘in order to understand form...you must understand the space that it would displace if it were taken away.’ (ibid., p.118)

T02270 is remarkable not only for this interpenetration of solid and void but also for the use of thin strings stuck to its surface (in the bronze casts these appear as ridges), which serve to heighten the viewer's perception of volume by drawing his eye across the forms. Neumann, op. cit., pp.98–9, speculates on the meaning of the scooped-out head, which resembles a mouth cavity in T02270, and other simplified heads in Moore's work. This particular motif goes back at least as far as the 1934 ‘Four-Piece Composition’, T02054 (see above).

With regard to the siting on the South Bank of the original bronze cast of ‘Reclining Figure’, the artist told the compiler (12 December 1980) that the sculpture was not made with a specific architectural relationship in mind and that he was not worried about where it would be placed on what was, after all, only a temporary site.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981


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