Plaster and string on a wood base
1054 x 2273 x 892 mm
Presented by the artist 1978
Technique and condition
Moore often added texture and surface designs to his sculptures by making marks using a variety of tools. Here, however, he has created detail by laying fine string across the surface of the sculpture according to a carefully executed design comprised of straight and curve lines (figs.2 and 3). The adhesive Moore used to attach the string to the surface has now aged, leaving a yellow tinge around the lines of string.
The sculpture has sustained a number of cracks and losses to its surface as a consequence of the plaster’s fragility. A yellowish brown area on the figure’s right forearm (fig.4) is likely to be the result of damp causing iron staining to spread from the armature. A second area, this time on the left ankle, has acquired a turquoise-green tinge (fig.5). This colour usually originates from copper and may be a stain emanating from the internal armature or caused by bronze dust accumulating on the surface of the sculpture while at the foundry.
How to citeLyndsey Morgan, 'Technique and Condition', March 2011, in Alice Correia, ‘Reclining Figure 1951 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2014, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www
Overall Reclining Figure has an open, skeletal form, although the scale and shape of some features – such as the right buttock, thigh and knee – have been exaggerated to give a sense of fleshy volume (fig.2). Viewing the sculpture from one end, it is possible to see all the way from the head to the ankles through a sequence of hollows that run through the body (fig.3).
A network of thin strings embedded into the surface of the sculpture enhances its three-dimensionality, leading the eye across, around and beneath the figure’s body. The strings generally follow the contours of certain forms – such as the radial lines on the rounded face of the left breast – or their outline. For example, the strings encircling and running down the right leg emphasise the girth of the thigh and the length of the calf respectively (fig.4). On the figure’s head the strings have been used to draw attention to the two small depressions on either side of its convex face, which are suggestive of eyes. Two strands encircle each depression, with more radiating from the outer string (fig.5).
Origins and facture
After making a number of drawings for his reclining figure Moore then constructed a small model of the sculpture to test out the design in three dimensions (fig.8). In 1968 Moore explained to the photographer John Hedgecoe that, ‘when I make a small maquette, it is rather like an architect making a sketch for a building on an envelope. In his mind it is a full-size building ... It’s all a question of mental scale and not physical size’.11 In Read’s film Moore is seen working on his initial maquette in plasticine, which Moore preferred to clay as it was more malleable and did not dry out as quickly. Moore incised the linear design onto the surface of the maquette, demonstrating that this was an integral part of the sculpture from an early stage. In actuality, the making of Reclining Figure did not follow the linear process depicted in Read’s film. For example, Moore made two maquettes of the reclining figure while developing the design in three dimensions, each with slight variations. In comparison to the version that was eventually enlarged, the second, Small Maquette No.2 for Reclining Figure 1950 (fig.9), is much thinner and more angular.
Having settled upon the basic design of the sculpture, Moore then created a working model in plaster (fig.11). Slightly larger than the maquettes, this working model allowed Moore to further refine his design. He used a red pencil to draw contour lines onto the surface of this working model sculpture, and unlike the lines inscribed on the maquette, which are markedly different from those that appear on the final Reclining Figure, these red pencil lines provided the blueprint for the design executed with string in Tate’s plaster. However, close inspection of the working model reveals that Moore drew more lines on the surface of the working model than he used on the full-size sculpture. The working model was later cast in bronze in an edition of seven plus one artist’s copy.
Sources and development
Reclining Figure may be understood as a development of Moore’s earlier reclining figures, such as Reclining Figure 1929 (fig.17) and Recumbent Figure 1938 (fig.18), carved in Brown and Green Hornton stone respectively. Both of these sculptures present a female figure lying down with the belly and legs extending to the right of an upright head and shoulders. Furthermore, in both cases the figure rests on its right elbow and has bent knees. A comparison between these works illustrates Moore’s changing approach to negative space in his sculpture. While the gap between the left arm and head in the 1929 sculpture seems to be a natural consequence of the figure’s pose, the holes in Recumbent Figure are more explicitly integrated into the sculpture’s design and may even be seen as formal elements in themselves. In 1937 Moore explained that ‘a hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass’.27 He found that by carving through the stone he could create holes that served to open out the inside of the sculpture, enhancing its three-dimensionality. In doing so Moore believed that he was replicating ‘nature’s way of working stone’, perhaps referring to the way that weathering creates rounded holes in rocks and pebbles.28
The Festival of Britain
Although reviews of the South Bank sculptural displays were mixed, responses to Moore’s contribution were generally positive. An unnamed critic reviewing the sculpture for the Architectural Review concluded that:
In 1978 the critic William Feaver reflected that ‘Moore-ish holed sculpture became the longest running modern art joke’.56
Parallels may be drawn between Reclining Figure and Moore’s previous responses to the Second World War by viewing the upward thrust of the sculpture’s head in light of the drawing September 3rd 1939, the title of which refers to the day that the war was announced (fig.21). The drawing depicts a group of pale, rigid and vertically-oriented bodies partially submerged in the sea in front of a red cliff-face. Reflecting the pervading sense of uncertainty about the future, it is unclear whether the figures are emerging from the water, or sinking into it for only their heads and shoulders can be seen. While the stillness of several figures conveys a sense of eerie calm, others break this stillness, appearing to strain their necks and scream. One such figure, the third from the right, has eyes on either side of an open mouth, which screams upwards to the sky. Similarly, Richard Cork has noted that Reclining Figure ‘seems to gape up at the sky, in the unlikely hope that reassurance might be discovered there’.72
The Henry Moore Gift
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Reclining Figure 1951 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2014, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www