Henry Moore OM, CH

Recumbent Figure


In Tate Britain
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Green Hornton stone
Object: 889 x 1327 x 737 mm, 520 kg
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1939

Display caption

This is one of the earliest works in which Moore shows the female figure undulating like the landscape. It was commissioned by the architect Serge Chermayeff to stand on the terrace of his home on the Downs. Visually, the figure would have acted as a bridge between the rolling hills and the ultra-modern house. Moore, like others, used many native British stones at this time. This Hornton stone came from a quarry near Banbury in Oxfordshire.

Gallery label, July 2007

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Catalogue entry


Recumbent Figure 1938 is a large sculpture of a reclining female figure carved from a rectangular block of Green Hornton stone. The sculpture was commissioned by Russian émigré architect Serge Chermayeff (1900–1996) in 1938 for the grounds of Bentley Wood, his house in Halland, Sussex. In 1955 Moore recalled that Chermayeff:
invited me, in 1936, to look at the site and lay-out of a house that he was building for himself in Sussex. He wanted me to say whether I could visualise one of my figures standing at the intersection of terrace and garden. It was a long, low-lying building and there was an open view of the long sinuous lines of the Downs. There seemed no point in opposing all these horizontals, and I thought a tall, vertical figure would have been more a rebuff than a contrast, and might have introduced needless drama. So I carved a reclining figure for him, intending it to be a kind of focal point of all the horizontals, and it was then that I became aware of the necessity of giving outdoor sculpture a far-seeing gaze. My figure looked out across a great sweep of the Downs and her gaze gathered in the horizon. The sculpture had no specific relationship to the architecture. It had its own identity and did not need to be on Chermayeff’s terrace, but it so to speak enjoyed being there, and I think it introduced a humanising element; it became a mediator between modern house and ageless land.1
Viewed from the front, the sculpture is made up of three sections: head, shoulders and arms towards the left; a belly or hip area suggested in the middle; and two legs to the right. The sculpture rests on three points – the elbow, the belly and the feet – the surface areas of which increase progressively. Separating these three points are two arched spaces, so that the sculpture may be understood as an amalgamation of peaks and hollows arranged on a diagonal, moving from elbow to knee.
The head, which is the tallest point of the sculpture, is made from an almost spherical block of stone and although the facial area of the head is almost flat, shallow indentations in the stone suggest eyes and a bridge of a nose (fig.1). A chin and jaw-line have also been carved. The back of the head curves inwards, as though the figure has a bun of hair at the back, and leads to a thick neck, which in turn leads down to a pair of broad shoulders and very thick arms. When seen from the rear it is evident that the head and shoulders are dramatically cantilevered over an empty space. The figure’s right arm is positioned at the front of the sculpture; from the large rounded shoulder, the upper arm narrows slightly and projects downwards on a slight diagonal, suddenly expanding into a bulbous elbow on which the sculpture is supported. The arm is bent at the elbow and the forearm extends on an upwards diagonal to merge with the middle section of the sculpture, a large globular area where a belly and hips would be expected. The left arm reaches out horizontally from the left shoulder and arcs around the upper chest, where two projecting breasts are located. The stone has been hollowed out below the bust line and between the two arms so that it is possible to see through the sculpture. From the rear the left arm and shoulder appears as a continuous self-supporting ledge, while the top of the right arm appears to be a flat shelf-like surface which runs parallel to the left arm and shoulder. The empty hollow running through the torso and back of the sculpture contrasts with the bulky mass of the central section.

Alice Correia
January 2013


Henry Moore in Sculpture in the Open Air, British Council film, 1955, transcript reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.258–9.
Jackson 1999, p.66.
See Henry Moore, letter to Kenneth Clark, 15 March 1939, Tate Archive TGA 8812.1.2.2032.
Henry Moore cited in Henry J. Seldis, Henry Moore in America, New York 1973, p.50.
See Alice Correia, ‘Henry Moore, Girl 1931 Tate N06078’, catalogue entry, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-om-ch-girl-r1172005, accessed 11 September 2015.
Henry Moore cited in Gemma Levine, With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work, London 1978, p.146.
Anne Middleton Wagner, Mother Stone: The Vitality of Modern British Sculpture, New Haven 2005, p.22.
John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.93.
For an image of Moore’s elm Reclining Figure 1939 see http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/henry-moore-0/henry-moore-room-guide/henry-moore-room-7, accessed January 2013.
Henry Moore cited in Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Arts Centre, Folkestone 1983, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, pp.58–9.
See Jackson 1999, pp.66–7.
Ibid., p.67.
Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1977, p.95.
Henry Moore cited in John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, revised edn, London 1973, p.48.
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.
Henry Moore cited in Arnold Haskell, ‘On Carving’, New English Weekly, 5 May 1932, pp.65–6, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.190.
See Matthew Gale, ‘Seated Figure 1932–3 by Barbara Hepworth’, catalogue entry, April 1997, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hepworth-seated-figure-t03130/text-catalogue-entry, accessed 21 January 2014.
Henry Moore, ‘A Sculptor Speaks’, Listener, 18 August 1937, pp.338–40, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.195.
Henry Moore cited in Philip James, ‘Henry Moore Looking at His Work, with Philip James’, audio recording, 1975, transcript reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.259.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: Sculptor, London 1934, pp.14–15.
Geoffrey Grigson, ‘A Comment on England’, Axis, no.1, January 1935, p.10.
Jennifer Mundy, ‘Comment on England’ in Chris Stephens (ed.), Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London, 2010, p.28.
Ibid., p.28.
See Andrew Causey, The Drawings of Henry Moore, London 2010, pp.56–7.
George Wingfield Digby, Meaning and Symbol in Three Modern Artists: Edvard Munch, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, London 1955, pp.70–1.
Ibid., pp.70–1.
Read 1934, p.14.
David Thompson, ‘Recumbent Figure by Henry Moore’, Listener, 25 November 1965, p.860.
Ibid., p.860.
Ibid., p.861.
Peter Fuller, ‘Henry Moore: An English Romantic’ in Susan Compton (ed.), Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1988, p.41.
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.131.
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921–1969, London 1970, p.12.
John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, 2nd edn, London 1973, p.74; Michel Remy, Surrealism in Britain, Aldershot 1999, p.70. Although Remy does not provide evidence as to when or where Moore and Arp met, it is his contention that they did meet.
Jean Arp cited in James Thrall Soby (ed.), Arp, New York 1958, p.15.
Russell 1973, p.74.
Moore 1937, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, pp.197–8.
Wilkinson 1977, p.95.
Ibid., p.95.
Seldis 1973, p.50.
Alan Powers, ‘Henry Moore’s Recumbent Figure, 1938 at Bentley Wood’, inPatrick Eyres and Fiona Russell (eds.), Sculpture and the Garden, London 2006, p.125.
Christa Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London 2008, p.97.
Ibid., p.95.
Ibid., p.97.
Henry Moore cited in Arts Centre, Folkestone 1983, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.59.
Powers 2006, p.129.
See Henry Moore, letter to Kenneth Clark, 26 March 1939, Tate Archive TGA 8812/1/3/2033.
Henry Moore, letter to Kenneth Clark, 8 April 1939, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.84.
Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, revised edn, London 2003, p.183.
See Henry Moore, letter to Kenneth Clark, 18 January 1939, Tate Archive TGA 8812/1/3/2030.
Chairman of the Fine Arts Committee, British Council, letter to Acting Director, Tate Gallery, 2 November 1939, Tate Public Records TG/4/9/568/1.
John Rothenstein, letter to Alfred H. Barr, 20 September 1940, Tate Public Records TG/4/9/568/1.
John Rothenstein, letter to Alfred H. Barr, 28 September 1940, Tate Public Records TG/4/9/568/1.
Alfred H. Barr, letter to John Rothenstein, 30 December 1940, Tate Public Records TG/4/9/568/1.
Moore 1955, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.259.
Alfred H. Barr, letter to John Rothenstein, 1 December 1941, Tate Public Records TG/4/9/568/1
Serge Chermayeff, letter to Henry Moore, 28 November 1941, Tate Archive TGA 8726/3/11
See Henry Moore, letter to Serge Chermayeff, 19 December 1941, copy sent by Moore to John Rothenstein, 26 December 1941, Tate Archive TGA 8726/3/11.
Alfred Barr, letter to John Rothenstein, cited in Jackson 1999, p.65.
John James Sweeny, letter to John Rothenstein, 7 March 1946, Tate Public Records TG 4/9/568/1.
Margaret Garlake, New Art / New World: British Art in Postwar Society, New Haven and London 1998, p.212.
Thompson 1965, p.860.
Ibid., p.860.
Harold Osborne, ‘Two at the Tate’, Arts Review, 12 November 1976, p.605.
See, for example, Mary Ellis, letter to Henry Moore, 1978, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
C. Simms, letter to Mr Terry Measham, Tate Gallery, 16 December 1976, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Michael Clarke, ‘Figures in a Landscape’, Times Educational Supplement, 7 July 1978, p.28.
Fuller 1988, p.41.

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