Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959

In 1959 Henry Moore cast this sculpture of a female reclining figure in bronze. The original version was made in lead in 1939 and, in that it represents the human body as a skeletal form, reveals the influence of Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti on Moore’s sculptures of the late 1930s.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Reclining Figure
1939, cast 1959
Bronze on a wood base
135 x 255 x 85 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1960
Artist’s copy aside from the edition of 8


Detail of foundry mark on underside of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
This is a sculpture of a female reclining figure made in bronze. The head and shoulders of the figure form a vertical axis on the left that extends into the body and legs on a horizontal axis. The figure is made up of linear rods and armatures more akin to the form of a skeleton than to a fleshy, naturalistic human body.
The head comprises a thin, flat, rounded shape with a U-shaped groove cut diagonally into its upper edge (fig.1). It is attached to a horizontal, almost-tubular bar denoting the shoulders, which extend downwards on one side to form the right arm. The upper section of the bar has been flattened, creating a wide, thin section which leads to a form which could be a pointed elbow or a spinal column. The left shoulder curves downwards and creates the top edge of an elongated semi-cylindrical form. This elongated curved shape merges the torso, hips and upper legs and is the largest single section of the sculpture.
Detail of semi-cylindrical body and hole of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Underside of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

When seen from the front the semi-cylindrical form creates a concave hollow emphasised by the presence of a hole that pierces the form in what can be understood to be abdomen region (fig.2). The tubular shape of the body is enhanced by the addition of a ring or disk at the hip area that circles the semi-cylindrical form linking its two edges. Towards the right of the sculpture the two edges of the tubular body morph into legs. Here the concave form that links the two legs is reminiscent of a long skirt that nonetheless allows for the discernment of individual limbs. The left thigh is slightly higher and longer than the left so that the legs run parallel to each other. The legs are bent at the knee where they point downwards to the base. When removed from its base the footprint of the sculpture as a whole can be seen to follow a crescent-shaped curve; the right shoulder and right leg are positioned on the frontal plane while the central abdomen curves backwards (fig.3).
Detail of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959 showing disk shape with two holes denoting breasts
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
A thin rod extends from the middle of the shoulders to the central ring and curves downwards from the head before changing direction to create a horizontal bar occupying the position of the spinal column. Positioned half-way along this spine is a flat bean shaped disk pierced with two holes (one on either side of the spine), which might be understood as representing breasts (fig.4). Seen in the round it is clear that the body of the figure is presented as an open network of rods and curves. Not only can the viewer see through the holes in the body, but the body itself is a skeletal structure that can be seen into and through.
Detail of foundry mark on underside of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of edition number on underside of Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The sculpture rests on its wooden base at four points: the right elbow, the hip or buttocks, and the right and left feet. Seen from the front the sculpture appears to lift itself off the base and locate most of its weight on its elbow. The sculpture is attached to the base with three screws that pass through the base and into the sculpture at the elbow, the central ring section, and the left foot. Below the hole the elbow is engraved with the foundry mark ‘Susse Fondeur, Paris’ (fig.5), and the edition number ‘AT 0/8’ is stamped underneath the central ring (fig.6). This means that the sculpture was cast in an edition of eight plus one additional cast for the artist. Moore’s artist’s copies were usually numbered 0.
Detail of patina variations on Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959
Tate T00387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The sculpture has been patinated chemically to heighten contrasts between different areas (fig.7). The inner curved wall of the semi-cylindrical form is a dark brown colour while its edges are highlighted in golden brown. Throughout the sculpture the thinner, linear elements have been presented in this lighter colour.
Although it was not cast in bronze until 1959 this sculpture was originally made in lead in 1939.1 From about 1955 and into the 1960s Moore reassessed many of his earlier unique sculptures made in lead, concrete and wood, and a number of these were cast and editioned in bronze. Among these new editions was Stringed Figure 1938 (Tate T00386), which was cast in bronze in 1960 after a unique wood original. In a letter dated 13 April 1961 to Martin Butlin, assistant keeper of the modern collection at Tate, Moore explained with regard to the then recently acquired Reclining Figure that, ‘as with many others I made in lead around that time [the late 1930s], I have since made a bronze edition, because lead is a very vulnerable material and can be scratched even by a finger nail’.2
In 1973 Moore elaborated that at the time he was making lead sculptures:
I didn’t know about lead – I didn’t know that you could put a little antimony with it and make it hard – so since then all the leads have been damaged. And they come back to me to be repaired, or to be salvaged – because in some cases if you drop a lead on the floor, on a hard floor, it will just collapse, whereas bronze is almost indestructible. So, to save the idea, I re-cast them into bronze.3
Although Moore stated that his decision to re-cast earlier lead sculptures was due to the vulnerability of the material and to ‘save the idea’, the decision to re-cast works in multiples may also have been driven by financial reasons. In the early 1940s Moore found that the sale of his small bronze maquettes, such as Maquette for Madonna and Child 1943 (Tate N05600), could off-set the costs of casting much larger sculptures in bronze. In addition, by the mid-1950s Moore’s work was in much greater demand from collectors and patrons and re-casting smaller works in editions of eight or nine would have been a practical way of satisfying this demand. During the 1950s Moore worked with a number of different London-based commercial galleries including Roland Browse and Delbanco, Gimpel Fils, and the Leicester Galleries, all of which sold small, domestic scale sculptures by Moore that could be placed on table tops. In July 1958 Marlborough Fine Art, which had galleries in London and New York, became Moore’s principal dealers, and it bought the complete bronze edition of Reclining Figure in 1959, a move that testified to the confidence they had in selling Moore’s work.
Although his teaching duties as Head of the Sculpture Department at the Chelsea School of Art kept him in London for much of his time, in 1935 Moore bought a cottage called Burcroft near Canterbury in Kent. In a letter dated 30 April 1939 to his friend Arthur Sale, Moore explained that ‘We go [to Burcroft] whenever we can be free from London because I can work better there’.4 It is likely that the original lead Reclining Figure was made at Burcroft, cast by Moore in a kiln constructed on the property. This practice of ‘backyard casting’ was relatively common among artists producing small scale sculptures in the 1930s, and lead was a particularly favoured material due to its low melting point.
Thanks to the financial security of his teaching post Moore was able to employ Bernard Meadows as an assistant. Meadows was a sculpture student at Norwich School of Art and later the Royal College of Art, London, and worked for Moore during his summer vacations from 1936 to 1940. On 9 December 1987 Tate curator Judith Collins interviewed Meadows with a focus on his role in the creation of Moore’s lead sculptures. According to Collins, Meadows ‘remembers casting lead pieces during the summer months of 1938 and 1939’, and that he ‘then stayed on alone at Burcroft in the winter holidays of 1938 and 1939 working on the lead casts’.5 Collins continued:
Meadows recalled how, once Moore had decided to cast in lead, he sought technical information both from a foundry and from the local blacksmith, who encouraged him to use bellows with his kiln. The metal came from lengths of lead armature piping used at Chelsea School of Art, and Moore also decided to melt down one of his earlier lead figures, the Seated Figure of 1930. Meadows and Moore improvised a kiln in the field belonging to Burcroft, building a tunnel-like structure incorporating a domestic terra-cotta fireback. A fire was built in this structure, with Meadows working the bellows, and the success of this procedure depended largely on the wind direction at the time.6
In order to create the original lead version of Reclining Figure Moore first made his model in a malleable material, most likely wax. In 1960 Moore recounted that during his experiments with backyard casting he discovered that he could skip one of the usual stages of the lost-wax process by modelling directly in wax.7 Meadows recalled in 1987 that the wax used for the lead sculptures made between 1938 and 1940 was ‘beeswax, bought from Boots the Chemist’ in Canterbury.8 Having modelled the original wax sculpture it was then encased in a refractory material, most likely plaster mixed with an aggregate of ground-up pottery. Moore then used the direct or lost-wax casting technique, whereby the casing containing the wax was placed in the kiln and heated so that the wax could be melted out. Molten lead was then poured into the sculpture-shaped void left inside the casing. In light of her conversation with Meadows, Collins explained that ‘the lead was melted down in a large domestic saucepan, one of Irina Moore’s, over a primus stove in the studio. The main consideration was whether the saucepan handle could withstand the weight of the lead when the saucepan was lifted and carried outside to the mould for the pouring of the molten metal’.9 When the lead had cooled and hardened the outer casing would have been removed to reveal the sculpture inside. However, one of the disadvantages of working in wax and using this direct lost-wax casting method was that since there was only one original sculpture, there was only one opportunity to cast the sculpture. If any stage in the process went wrong, the sculpture would be lost. This element of risk may explain why Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter, recounted that Moore ‘thought he’d try lead casting at home, because by then he was so macho and he just thought, “Well, why can’t I do it?”’.10
It is probable that the lead Reclining Figure was one of a number of sculptures made between August and early October 1939. In a letter to his friend the critic Herbert Read dated 9 October Moore noted:
At present and during the last few weeks I’ve been doing ideas and small figures for metal. Bernard Meadows, the student who’s helped me with roughing out and odd jobs during the last 2 or 3 summers is here with us, probably until he’s called up [to serve in the Second World War] or gets a job, because the Royal College of Art hasn’t started again – And between us we’ve cast the wax models I make, into lead. After casting they need quite a lot of working on, but in the last month out of the 8 or 9 we’ve cast, I’ve completed three or four and have just sent two for the Leicester Galleries mixed Autumn show they’re having.11
The original lead Reclining Figure was included in the exhibition Surrealism Today held at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1940 and can be seen in a photograph, adjacent to Moore’s large stringed sculpture Bird Basket. In art historian Michel Remy’s 1999 survey of surrealism in Britain Moore was identified as an active member of a group of artists, writers and critics advocating surrealist ideas and motifs. Remy suggested that one of the aims of surrealism was to unveil the unseen, and that ‘in the 1939 Reclining Figure, holes, tunnels and cavities seem to be aligned and invite the penetration of matter’.12 However, despite his work being seen within the context of surrealist art, Moore’s links to surrealism were not clear cut. In the early 1970s the surrealist painter Gordon Onslow Ford, who owned the lead original of Reclining Figure and who organised Surrealism Today, distinguished between Moore’s artistic ambitions and those of the surrealists:
I think that when Herbert Read and Henry Moore became interested in Surrealism they thought of it as a popular movement that might show people that they had to change the way in which they were living. I do not believe that Surrealism was ever central to Moore although he sometimes showed with the Surrealists. He did not share [André] Breton’s feeling that there was no other alternative in art at the time and Surrealism was the great hope. In comparison to the Surrealists – who were often amateurs trying something that couldn’t have been done before, Moore came from a traditional art background and had a thorough professional training. Even at his most experimental Moore – unlike the Surrealists – has always been involved in continuing the tradition of European man, and his changes have been humanistic changes.13
Gordon Onslow Ford, who was the grandson of the Victorian sculptor Edward Onslow Ford, moved to Paris in 1937 with the intention of forging a career as a painter. A year later he was invited to join André Breton’s surrealist group and was noted for being one of its youngest members. The Second World War curtailed his time in France and Onslow Ford retuned to London in 1939. It is likely that he purchased the original lead version of Reclining Figure in 1940 after organising Surrealism Today. The painter referred to the sculpture as ‘the fire engine’, possibly because its arrangement of tubes and armatures reminded him of water hoses.14
Henry Moore 'Seated Mother and Child and Internal/External Figure' 1947–8
Henry Moore
Seated Mother and Child and Internal/External Figure 1947–8
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Although the bronze versions of the sculpture were not cast until 1959 a note Moore made in his sketchbook suggests that he had planned to make casts more than a decade earlier. Adjacent to a sketch of a seated woman dated 1947–8 Moore wrote a reminder: ‘remember lead figures | Onslow Ford. | K.C.’ (fig.8). Below the inscription is a sketch of a reclining figure similar to the lead sculpture Reclining Figure 1939 (Tate T03761). The initials K.C. refer to the art historian Kenneth Clark who owned one of Moore’s small lead reclining figures. In order to re-cast an original lead sculpture in bronze Moore would usually have made a mould direct from the sculpture.15 However, according to the scholar Henry J. Seldis, the original lead version of Reclining Figure owned by Onslow Ford ‘somehow disappeared from [its owner’s] apartment during the war’.16 It is therefore likely that Moore worked from his memory, sketches and photographic records to re-make a wax or plaster maquette from which a mould could be made.
The various table-top sculptures that Moore cast during the late 1950s and 1960s have been discussed by art historians and critics as though they dated from the late 1930s, when their unique lead, concrete or wood originals were made.17 For example, in 1968 the critic David Sylvester discussed Moore’s wooden stringed sculptures made in the late 1930s alongside bronze editions cast in the 1960s, regarding the delayed casting of some sculptures as unproblematic since stringed works were ‘made to be cast’, adding that ‘a few pieces not cast at the time have been cast in bronze at various times since’.18 While Moore may have had different, unrecorded objectives for creating Reclining Figure in 1959, it is nonetheless instructive to consider it in light of the reclining figure sculptures he made during the 1930s.
The reclining figure propped up on its elbows with raised knees emerged as a central motif in Moore’s work during the late 1920s. Moore had carved his first reclining figure around 1924 but took up the subject with greater seriousness in 1929 and it became his most frequently recurring subject. In 1947 Moore accounted for his preference for the reclining figure, stating:
There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing, the other is seated, and the third is lying down ... But of the three poses, the reclining figure gives most freedom compositionally and spatially. The seated figure has to have something to sit on. You can’t free it from its pedestal. A reclining figure can recline on any surface. It is free and stable at the same time. It fits in with my belief that sculpture should be permanent, should last for eternity. Also, it has repose, it suits me – if you know what I mean.19
Toltec-Mayan sculpture of Chacmool from Chichén Itzá, c.900–1000
Museo Nacional de Antroplogia, Mexico City
Michelangelo 'Dawn' c.1520–34
Dawn c.1520–34
Medici Chapel, Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence

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.9), were reproduced alongside Michelangelo’s carvings of allegorical figures in the Medici Chapel in Florence under the title ‘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 Michelangeo’s work, in particular the sculpture Dawn c.1520-34 (fig.10). Sylvester argued that even when Moore’s figures became more abstract they nonetheless had ‘poses which are the perogative of the Mediterranean tradition’.20
By choosing the subject of the reclining female figure for his sculptures, Moore was free to experiment with sculptural forms, both compositionally (in the position of the body and its limbs) and spatially (in the ways in which the figure’s limbs projected into space and interacted with spatial gaps). In addition to these perceived virtues, Moore also believed that because the subject of the reclining figure was known and understood, he was not tied to creating naturalistic artworks. On the subject of his reclining figures Moore was clear that he did not seek to imbue his sculptures with a specific meaning, but rather to use the motif as a starting-point for formal experiments:
I want to be quite free of having to find a ‘reason’ for doing the Reclining Figures, and freer still of having to find a ‘meaning’ for them. The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows [him] to try out all kinds of formal ideas – things that he doesn’t yet know about for certain but wants to experiment with, as Cézanne did in this ‘Bathers’ series. In my case the reclining figure provides chances of that sort. The subject-matter is given. It’s settled for you, and you know it and like it, so that within it, within the subject that you’ve done a dozen times before, you are free to invent a completely new form-idea.21
Henry Moore 'Reclining Figure' 1929
Henry Moore
Reclining Figure 1929
Leeds City Art Gallery
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore OM, CH 'Recumbent Figure' 1938
Henry Moore OM, CH
Recumbent Figure 1938
Tate N05387
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Reclining Figure may be understood as a development of Moore’s earlier Reclining Figure 1929 (fig.11) and Recumbent Figure 1938 (Tate N05387; fig.12), 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 to the right of her upright head and shoulders. In all three sculptures the figure rests on her right elbow and her knees are bent, and they each have rounded projecting breasts. In the later bronze work, however, Moore dispensed with the heavy, block-like composition of the 1929 sculpture and the bulbous, globular forms of Recumbent Figure. Instead, the forms of Reclining Figure are thinner and more skeletal.
Henry Moore 'Reclining Figure' 1931
Henry Moore
Reclining Figure 1931
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore’s use of thin, linear elements in Reclining Figure – for example the arms, legs and spinal column – may be traced back to Moore’s lead Reclining Figure of 1931 (fig.13). In this work ‘Moore engaged in the technique of thinning out one part of the figure in a game of philiforms and parallels’.22 The opening out of the torso and rib-cage and the consequent creation of internal spaces was explored in Moore’s figurative sculpture of the 1930s and may have stimulated his later interest in the relationship between internal and external forms seen in works such as Upright Internal/External Form 1952–3 (Tate T02272). However, Moore’s ambition to open out the sculpture presented technical problems when working in stone and wood that were only resolved when Moore turned to wax modelling and metal casting in 1937–8. In a discussion about the benefits of working with wax Moore noted that ‘working direct in wax has many possibilities, since wax has a toughness about it that will allow you to do very thin forms ... By working direct in wax, one was able to make shapes and forms much thinner and more open then ever you could have done direct in plaster’.23 Moore went on to observe that sculpting in this way allowed him to make works that utilised space as a sculptural component, resulting in what he called ‘spatial forms’.24
The ‘spatial forms’ of Reclining Figure became the most talked about feature of the sculpture in art historical accounts. For example, the critic Herbert Read suggested that in his use of tubular rods Moore ‘outlines the volume rather than occupies it; here the body is reduced to an open structure which, however, is not a reduction of the flesh to reveal the skeletal sub-structure, but a merging of bone and flesh into one coherent rhythm’.25 In 1968 Reclining Figure was exhibited in Moore’s retrospective at the Tate Gallery in a thematic grouping called ‘Holes and Hollows’, where it was presented as an example of how the use of modelled wax allowed Moore to create sculptures ‘about as open as they ever were to be’.26
The open and linear forms of Reclining Figure may have been influenced by Pablo Picasso’s fragmentation of the body in his paintings, drawings and sculptures. 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’.27 Moore had first-hand knowledge of Picasso’s work having seen paintings by the Spanish artist at the Mayor Gallery in London in the early 1930s. Moore also made regular trips to Paris, where Picasso lived and worked, and in the summer of 1937 he and a group of artists including Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst and Roland Penrose were invited by Picasso to his studio to view the progress of his large-scale painting Guernica 1937 (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid).
Pablo Picasso 'An Anatomy' 1933
Pablo Picasso
An Anatomy 1933
Reproduced in Minotaure, no.1, 1933, pp.36–7
Moore’s knowledge of Picasso’s work was supplemented by his study of photographic reproductions published 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.28 It is also probable that Moore saw or bought the first issue of the art journal Minotaure, published in Paris in June 1933, which contained reproductions of Picasso’s drawings, published under the title An Anatomy 1933 (fig.14).29 In An Anatomy Picasso presents the human body as a sequence of precariously balanced vertical and horizontal shapes; arches, prisms and cuboids are variously balanced alongside shapes that recall ladders, chairs and cogs, reconfiguring the body into a series of interconnected forms in space. Most notably, the disk-shaped form that occupies the hip area of Reclining Figure is comparable to the shapes that can be seen around the waist of a number of Picasso’s figures. However, the curator Alan Wilkinson has warned that although similarities may be found between the work of Moore and Picasso, this does ‘not suggest that Moore worked directly from reproductions of ... Picasso’s drawings ... but rather had assimilated the forms and made them something very much his own’.30
Henry Moore 'Studies for Sculptures: Reclining Figures' 1939
Henry Moore
Studies for Sculptures: Reclining Figures 1939
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Although it was rare for Moore to make preparatory drawings for individual sculptures, works on paper such as Studies for Sculptures: Reclining Figures 1939 (fig.15) show how Moore was experimenting with the human form around the time he made the lead Reclining Figure. Like Picasso’s sketches for An Anatomy, in Studies for Sculptures: Reclining Figures Moore presents a sequence of splayed, reclining figures, each composed of an amalgamation of tubular bars and disks. In the lower centre of the page is a design that Anne Garrould, the cataloguer of Moore’s drawings, has argued is a preliminary sketch for Reclining Figure on the basis of its formal similarities to the finished sculpture, although it cannot be verified whether the sketch was made before or after the lead sculpture was completed.31 In the centre left of the page a sketch of a reclining figure with two circular disks attached to two parallel wire-like rods closely resembles a lead sculpture also made in 1939 that was owned by Kenneth Clark.32
Alberto Giacometti 'Woman with her Throat Cut' 1932
Alberto Giacometti
Woman with her Throat Cut 1932
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
In addition to the example set by Picasso, another source for Moore’s opened bodies may have been the work of Alberto Giacometti. Moore exhibited alongside Giacometti at the International Surrealism exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936, and had met the artist at Picasso’s studio in 1937, if not before. Although Moore’s work does not convey the same violent or sexual content as, for example, Giacometti’s Woman with her Throat Cut 1932 (fig.16), in 1961 Moore acknowledged his admiration for Giacometti with reference to this particular sculpture: ‘he produced something very special of his own: a reality of the wraith, as it were. In Giacometti’s work the armature has once again become the life-line of the sculpture, and also he’s brought back to sculpture a nervous sensitivity’.33
Moore’s description of Giacometti’s figure as wraith-like and made up of armatures could also be applied to Reclining Figure. Moore’s vascular and spectral portrayal of the human body was identified in 1955 by George Wingfield Digby, then curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Wingfield Digby suggested that many of Moore’s sculptures were reminiscent of bones, and ‘the severed remnants of some human life’.34 For Wingfield Digby, however, the evocation of bones was not to be regarded as macabre or melancholic. He argued instead that ‘the dismemberment theme refers principally to the idea of death as a necessary preliminary to rebirth’, and he cited T.S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday (1927) as a contemporaneous meditation on the interconnectedness of death, rebirth and resurrection: ‘Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining’.35
However, in his 1959 book on Moore German psychologist Eric Neumann discussed Reclining Figure as a symbol of death: ‘everything fruitlike has been melted away from the woman’s body, and its deathly machine-like character is very much to the fore. The reduction to pure line and the evaporation of mass into empty space go far beyond anything suggested in earlier drawings’.36 In contrast to the rotund and fecund female reclining figures epitomised by Recumbent Figure 1938, the ‘deadly and destructive opposite finds expression in the naked skeleton, stripped of all organic fullness and reduced to the spectral machine. The supreme example of this representation of death goddess is the ... figure from late 1939’.37 Such an interpretation may regard Moore’s sculpture as a precursor to the skeletal standing figures of Reg Butler, such as Woman 1949 (Tate N05942), and to the work of a generation of British sculptors preoccupied with the expression of post-war alienation. The smaller disk of the breast plate pierced by a taut line may also be an antecedent to Eduardo Paolozzi’s Forms on a Bow 1949 (Tate T00227).
Prior to the acquisition of Reclining Figure in 1960 Tate held thirteen sculptures by Moore in its collection, most of which were small maquettes. Acquisitions of Moore’s work had been hindered since the 1930s, first by J.B. Manson, Tate’s director between 1930 and 1938, who disliked modern art and who told Tate Trustee Robert Sainsbury, ‘Over my dead body will Henry Moore ever enter the Tate’,38 and then by Moore’s own appointment as a trustee, a position he held between 1941–8 and then 1949–56.39 As a consequence, by the late 1950s the trustees were keen to expand the gallery’s holdings of Moore’s work. After stepping down from his role as a trustee Moore discussed a number of sculptures that could be made available to Tate with the gallery’s then director, Sir John Rothenstein. Moore proposed a list of eight works, which was presented to the trustees at their meeting on 16 May 1957.40 Although this proposed purchase did not occur immediately, the list, which included an example of each of Moore’s different subjects and materials to date, became the blueprint used by the Friends of the Tate for their acquisition of six sculptures by Moore, including Reclining Figure, in 1960. A letter to Moore dated 1961 from Jane Lascelles, Organising Secretary for the Friends, notes that there was no correspondence about the acquisition of these sculptures in the Friends’ files, suggesting that the particulars of the sale – the cost of each work – were agreed verbally with Moore.41 In addition to the artist’s personal cast of Reclining Figure, the other sculptures presented to the gallery in December 1960 were Composition 1932 (Tate T00385), Stringed Figure 1938, cast 1960 (Tate T00386), Helmet Head No.1 1950 (Tate T00388), Mother and Child 1953 (Tate T00389), and Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure 1957 (Tate T00390).
The current whereabouts of the original lead sculpture remain unknown and the eight bronze casts are believed to be held in private collections.

Alice Correia
January 2013


See David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, London1957, revised edn, London 1988, p.12, no.208, reproduced p.119.
Henry Moore, letter to Martin Butlin, 13 April 1961, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23942.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Carroll, The Donald Carroll Interviews, London 1973, p.42, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.235.
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’, 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 Wilkinson 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 Papers, University of Victoria. A copy of this letter is held in The Henry Moore Foundation Archive. According to the catalogue for the autumn 1939 group exhibition at the Leicester Galleries 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.
Michel Remy, Surrealism in Britain, Aldershot 1999, p.180.
Gordon Onslow Ford cited in Henry J. Seldis, Henry Moore in America, New York 1973, p.52.
See ibid., p.53. Seldis’s account follows an extended quote by Onslow Ford and it is likely that this information was conveyed to him by Onslow Ford in the early 1970s.
For example, Moore borrowed a lead Reclining Figure from its owner Peter Gregory in 1958 to cast an edition in bronze. See Henry Moore, letter to H.R. Fisher, 18 July 1958, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Seldis 1973, p.53.
See Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London 1960, pp.46–8.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, pp.104–5.
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.
Sylvester 1968, p.7.
Henry Moore cited in John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, revised edn, London 1973, p.48.
Giovanni Carandente, ‘Reclining Figure 1931’, in David Mitchinson (ed.), Celebrating Moore: Works from the Collection of the Henry Moore Foundation, London 2006, p.126.
Henry Moore cited in Hall 1960, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.233.
Ibid, p.233.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work, London 1965, p.125.
Sylvester 1968, p.71.
Henry Moore, ‘Interview with Elizabeth Blunt’, Kaleidoscope, BBC Radio 4, 9 April 1973, transcript reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.167.
See Christa Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London 2008, p.49.
Minotaure, no.1, 1933, pp.36–7.
Alan Wilkinson, The Drawings of Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1977, p.87.
Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 2: Complete Drawings 1930–39, London 1998, p.233.
This work is Reclining Figure 1939 (private collection). See Chris Stephens (ed.), Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2010, reproduced p.157.
Henry Moore cited in John and Vera Russell, ‘Conversations with Henry Moore’, Sunday Times, 24 December 1961, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.152.
George Wingfield Digby, Meaning and Symbol in Three Modern Artists: Henry Moore,Edvard Munch, Paul Nash, London 1955, p.77.
Ibid., p.87.
Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, London 1959, p.81.
Ibid., p.82.
Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, revised edn, London 2003, p.183.
Tate cannot acquire works of art by artists while they are serving as trustees.
Minutes of Meeting of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, 16 May 1957, Tate Archive TG/4/2/742/2.
Jane Lascelles, letter to Henry Moore, 1 June 1961, Tate Archive TG/20/6/1.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Reclining Figure 1939, cast 1959 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-om-ch-reclining-figure-r1147452, accessed 05 March 2024.