Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure
Cumberland alabaster on a Purbeck marble base
175 x 457 x 203 mm
Purchased from the Mayor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the National Art Collections Fund, 1976
Technique and condition
The individual pieces are all fixed via screws that pass through six holes drilled in the base from underneath (fig.3). Two screws are used to attach each of the two ‘legs’, one for the small sphere, and one larger screw to fix the upright ‘torso’. The present base is an exact replica of the 1934 original and was made by Moore in 1972. This replaced the base that previous owners of the work had fabricated to their own design. The original five-sided base was integral to the sculpture in that Moore had intended the arrangement of the four elements mounted upon it to dictate its form.
How to citeLyndsey Morgan, 'Technique and Condition', March 2013, in Alice Correia, ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure 1934 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www
The front view of the sculpture is usually deemed to be that which positions the tallest wheel-shaped form on the right (fig.1). Three of the pieces are positioned on a single plane at the front of the base while the fourth is to the rear. The wheel-shaped form represents not only the head but also the top part of the body, including the arms; it has a large curved U-shaped declivity carved out of the upper section (fig.2). The flat front side has been incised with two small, but different sized circles and a single curved, meandering line. The larger of the two circles is positioned to the right of the declivity and just above the end of the incised line. The other circle is positioned between the central peak of the line. Seen in relation to the carved out space, the larger circle may be regarded as an eye so that the concave space becomes akin to an open mouth. The rear of this piece is slightly concave and does not have any incisions.
Behind these three pieces is a boomerang-shaped element that is positioned resting flat on the base. Although Moore identified it simply as a ‘body part’, the piece may be regarded as a leg, the end of which peeks through the arch of the other leg piece. A small shallow circular incision has been drilled into the inner calf area of this element, close to the knee bend. It is surrounded by an incised circle and a single straight line extends from the hole, crosses the circle and runs half way down the inner leg (fig.3). A repair join is visible mid-way along the thigh area of this fourth piece (fig.4).
The idea for a multi-part figurative sculpture preoccupied Moore for some time, as can be seen in other drawings such as Studies for Several-Piece Compositions and Wood Carvings 1934 (fig.7) and Sheet of Four-Piece Compositions 1934 (fig.8). In the first of these drawings the left-hand side of the page is full of leg variations; the two in the top centre of the page most closely resemble the arched leg of the sculpture. Although in this section of the drawing Moore has not positioned the individual elements on a base, the inclusion of a sketch at the bottom of the page comprising a N-shaped arch and a sphere does point to how Moore was testing the position of individual forms in relation to one another. The second of these drawings has been identified by Wilkinson as containing two sketches that are closest to the Tate sculpture.15 The two sketches are positioned one above the other at the bottom right of the sheet, to the left of Moore’s signature. Wilkinson noted that in these two sketches all four pieces included in the final sculpture had been brought together, although he acknowledged that in the carving one of the arched leg forms is positioned on its side rather than upright as it is depicted in the drawing.16
Although Moore continued to experiment with multi-part sculptures into the later 1930s these works were principally non-figurative and he did not return to the theme of the fragmented body until the late 1950s and early 1960s with the development of his bronze two- and three-piece reclining figures (see, for example, Two-Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960, Tate T00395). Morphet suggested that one of the reasons why Moore did not carry on exploring the fragmented body was that ‘in doing so would in his view have run the risk of the viewer losing track of the fundamental subject of this and all his work, the human figure’.34 However, in the ideas developed in sketches in 1934, such as Drawings for Wood Constructions 1934 (fig.10), it is clear that Moore did continue to think about the relationship of individual sculpted elements between and within space. Through these drawings it is possible to draw a link between Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure and his stringed sculptures of the later 1930s, such as Stringed Relief 1937 (fig.11), in which the relations between form and space, and the interconnectedness of parts within a single sculpture are explored.
Moore had been aware of Picasso’s work since his student days at Leeds School of Art, and in 1973 reflected that ‘really all my practicing life was as a student, and as a sculptor I have been very conscious of Picasso because he dominated sculpture and painting – even sculpture as well as painting – since Cubism’.40 Moore first visited Paris, where Picasso lived and worked, in 1922 and made regular trips to the city until the mid-1930s in order to study contemporary artistic trends and developments. These visits were supplemented by his study of photographic reproductions included in French art periodicals including Cahiers d’Art (from 1926) and Documents (1929–30). Both these journals championed the work of Picasso as a major force in contemporary art and in 1930 Moore bought the third issue of Documents, a special edition dedicated to Picasso’s work.41 In this publication Moore saw reproductions of Picasso’s drawings and paintings made in Cannes in c.1927–9 of monumental nude women standing on a beach. In works such as Project for a Monument 1928 (fig.13) the human body is presented as a sequence of precariously balanced vertical and boomerang-shaped beams positioned alongside two ovoids and capped with a smaller boomerang shape and a third, smaller ovoid, pierced with two holes, which may represent eyes. The art historian Christopher Green has argued that Moore was able to respond to Picasso’s drawings and paintings because both artists rooted their art ‘in their knowledge of the human body, however far they moved from straight representation’.42 Moore’s 1934 drawing Studies for Sculpture (fig.14), which includes a drawing directly related to Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure, does bear a striking resemblance to Picasso’s multi-part bathers of 1928–9, although Moore chose to present reclining, rather than standing figures.43
At some point between completing the sculpture towards the end of 1934 and October 1935 Moore took a series of photographs showing the sculpture from four different angles (figs.16–19). The art historian Elizabeth Brown has noted that Moore would have been alert to the importance of good photographic reproductions of sculptures from reading magazines such as Cahiers d’Art.48 While most of Moore’s photographs from the early 1930s were documentary and archival in nature, some, such as these images of Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure, presented sculptures from different angles with dramatic, raking light. Brown suggested that in this series of photographs Moore was emphasising his belief, conveyed originally in his statement for Unit One, that ‘Complete sculptural expression is form in its full spatial reality ... Sculpture fully in the round has no two points alike’.49 The four angles chosen to represent the sculpture demonstrate how Moore engaged with and harnessed the spatial complexities of his sculptural work in his photographs. Brown noted that since Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure has multiple constituent parts and does not have a single, fixed focal point, ‘Moore’s photographic series contributes substantially to the viewer’s understanding of his concept. Each photograph essentially presents a wholly new and different composition. Each juxtaposes familiar details or passages alongside uncanny ones’.50 In light of Brown’s analysis, it is significant that each of Moore’s four photographs have been variously reproduced in his monographs and catalogues, and may well have influenced the decision to devote the last four pages of the catalogue for Henry Moore: Sculptures et dessins – an exhibition held at the Musée de l’Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, in 1977 – to a presentation of Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure by the progressive enlargement of a single photograph, culminating in a detail of the pebble element on the catalogue’s back cover.
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure 1934 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www