Henry Moore OM, CH

Reclining Figure


Not on display

Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Lead on wooden base
Overall: 170 × 330 × 134 mm, 10.4 kg
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

Display caption

At the time of making, lead was an infrequently used material in Moore’s oeuvre. This is one of a series of sculptures that Moore himself cast in lead in 1938–40. The material allowed thinner, more sinuous forms to be wrought. Moore said that he also liked working with lead because something about its appearance announced the material’s poisonous quality; it was sinister.

Gallery label, September 2016

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry


This sculpture presents a reclining female figure propped up on her left elbow. The figure’s head and torso form a vertical axis that contrasts with the horizontal axis created by her legs, which stretch out to the left. While the outlines of individual limbs are identifiable, various parts of the body are conjoined within the singular form as though they had melted into each other. This effect is heightened by the colour and surface sheen of the lead, which give the impression that the sculpture might be soft to touch.

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 neck leads down from the head to a pair of broad powerful shoulders and an arched back. The right shoulder curves downwards delineating the sculpture’s back, and there is no separate right arm. The left shoulder leads to the left arm on which the weight of the upper body is propped. The upper part of the left arm is separated from the main body of the sculpture by an oval hole. Bent at the elbow, the left forearm rests on the wooden base and merges with the side of the figure.
The breast plate projects forwards from the neck, arching over the hollowed torso with curved edges creating a loosely-shaped pair of breasts (fig.3). The left breast is pierced with a hole suggesting an areola or nipple. Although there is no separate right arm, one is subtly suggested. Following the curve of the shoulder down the side of the body, a slight ridge running from the abdomen to the hip can be discerned. This ridge is suggestive of a forearm and culminates in a mound, which could be a hand.

Alice Correia
January 2013


Henry Moore, letter to Arthur Sale, 30 April 1939, Imperial War Museum Archive, IMW/ART/16597/1. For a transcript of the letter see http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19443, accessed 11 June 2013.
[Judith Collins], ‘Henry Moore: Reclining Figure 1939’, in The Tate Gallery 1984–86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982–84, London 1988, p.539.
Ibid., pp.539–40.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.232.
[Collins] 1988, p.539.
Ibid., p.540.
Mary Moore, ‘Reclining Figure 1939’, in Gregor Muir (ed.), Henry Moore: Ideas for Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Hauser & Wirth, London 2010, p.137.
Henry Moore, letter to Herbert Read, 9 October 1939, Herbert Read Archive, University of Victoria. (A copy of this letter is held in the Henry Moore Foundation Archive). According to the Leicester Galleries catalogue for the autumn 1939 group exhibition Moore exhibited a lead stringed figure and a coloured chalk drawing. See Autumn Exhibitions. Selected Paintings, Drawings and Pottery Lent by the Contemporary Art Society: Paintings and Sculpture for Sale by Modern British Artists, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, London 1939, no.49 and no.137 respectively.
Two of these bronze casts are in the collection of the British Council. In 1991 a third example held in the British Council collection was acquired by exchange by the Henry Moore Foundation, where it remains. The fourth bronze cast is held in the Henry Moore Family Collection. These bronze examples have no inscriptions and it is unknown when or where they were cast.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Carroll, The Donald Carroll Interviews, London 1973, p.42, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.235.
Henry Moore, letter to H.R. Fisher, 18 July 1958, Henry Moore Foundation Archive. Gregory’s lead sculpture is no.203 in the artist’s catalogue raisionné; see David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, London 1957, p.115. The sculpture was cast in an edition of three bronzes, one of which is in the British Council collection, http://collection.britishcouncil.org/collection/artist/5/18427/object/43358/0, accessed 29 January 2013.
Henry Moore cited in J.D. Morse, ‘Henry Moore Comes to America’, Magazine of Art, vol.40, no.3, March 1947, pp.97–101, reprinted in Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture, London 1966, p.264.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, p.7.
Henry Moore, Henry Moore at the British Museum, London 1981.
Ibid., p.60.
Terry Friedman, ‘Reclining Figure 1939’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, pp.177–8.
Henry Moore cited in John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, revised edn, London 1973, p.48.
Henry Moore cited in Hall 1960, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.233.
A.D.B. Sylvester, ‘The Evolution of Henry Moore’s Sculpture: I’, Burlington Magazine, vol.90, no.543, June 1948, p.164.
Geoffrey Grigson, ‘A Comment on England’, Axis, no.1, January 1935, p.10. For a discussion of Grigson’s use of the term ‘biomorphic’ see Jennifer Mundy, ‘Comment on England’, in Chris Stephens (ed.), Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2010, pp.22–37.
Christopher Green, ‘Henry Moore and Picasso’, in James Beechy and Chris Stephens (eds.), Picasso and Modern British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2012, p.139.
Michel Remy, Surrealism in Britain, Aldershot 1999, p.70.
Jean Arp cited in James Thrall Soby (ed.), Arp, New York 1958, p.15.
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1969, London 1970, p.12.
Ibid., p.12.
Russell 1973, p.74.
Moore 1937, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, pp.197–8.
Kenneth Clark, Henry Moore Drawings, London 1974, p.194.
Anon., ‘Art Exhibitions: Mr. Moore’s Drawings for Sculpture’, Times, 18 February 1939, p.10.
Ibid., p.10.
Moore cited in Hall 1960, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.233.
Henry Moore, ‘A Sculptor Speaks’, Listener, 18 August 1937, pp.338–40, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.195.
Friedman 2006, p.178.
Henry Moore cited in Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Arts Centre, Folkestone 1983, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.59.
Anita Feldman Bennet, ‘Ideas for Sculpture in Landscape 1938’, in Mitchinson 2006, p.166.
Ibid., p.166.
A photograph of Moore’s lead Reclining Figure 1938 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) taken around the time it was made shows the small sculpture against the skyline at Burcroft. The angle at which the photograph was taken makes the sculpture appear far larger than it is, and in 1978 Moore stated his intention to enlarge the sculpture and position it on a small man-made hill at the end of the sheep field adjacent to his home in Hertfordshire. In 1984 the sculpture was indeed enlarged, and was installed on the hill posthumously.
Secretary, Memo to the Director, 8 February 1940, Victoria & Albert Museum Archive, Ernest Brown and Phillips Limited File, MA/1/BB819/3.
See Victoria & Albert Museum Archive, School Loans Prospectuses MA/17/1; Travelling Exhibitions Available for Loan to Public Museums, Art Galleries and Public Libraries Prospectuses, MA/17/2; Exhibitions for Loan to Museums, Art Galleries and Libraries Prospectuses, MA/17/3/4; and Exhibitions for Loan to Museums, Art Galleries and Libraries Prospectuses, MA/17/5.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop