Green Hornton stone
889 x 1327 x 737 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1939
Technique and condition
This larger than life size sculpture of a reclining female figure is carved from Hornton stone, a Jurassic limestone quarried in Oxfordshire. It contains a number of fossil inclusions (fig.1) as well as iron minerals that give it characteristic grey-green and brown layers. This stone is usually quarried in relatively small sections so in order to have a piece large enough to carve Recumbent Figure Moore had a composite block made comprising three layers bonded with an adhesive. There are two joins: one runs horizontally through the centre of the body and one through the neck (fig.2). The joins have been matched with the colour of the stone to ensure that they are less visible.
In 1939 the sculpture was loaned to the New York World’s Fair before going on display in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where it stayed during the Second World War. During this time the sculpture eroded slightly due to exposure to the elements, and the harder, iron-rich veins in the stone now stand proud of the surface (fig.3). In 1944 vandals pushed the sculpture off its plinth, which resulted in serious damage (fig.4). The original fabrication join at the neck came apart and took with it a small section of stone at the front. There was also a loss to the figure’s right knee along with a number of abrasions. The sculpture was repaired at MoMA and losses were initially filled with cement. Later restoration was carried out at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, in 1977. A detailed investigation of the sculpture and an assessment of its condition was carried out at Tate in 1995.1 This determined the location and composition of previous treatments, and was followed by extensive cleaning and the removal of unsightly repairs. New fills were made using a combination of acrylic emulsions and Hornton stone powder, which was ground to the correct grain size to integrate the repair with the surrounding stone. The original green-grey and brown colours of the limestone are now clearly visible once again.
Recumbent Figure was carved in Green Hornton stone, an Engligh material named after the town in Oxfordshire where it was originally quarried. Hornton stone is a Jurassic limestone and can range in colour from sage green to warm brown (the different colours of the rock come from different parts of the quarry). Moore also made works in Brown Hornton stone, including Reclining Figure 1929 (fig.2). As a sedimentary stone it is possible to see fossil inclusions as well as iron minerals in the surface of the stone (fig.3). This sedimentary composition means that the stone is relatively soft, which although good for carving, also means that it is prone to crack under pressure. Due to strata size limitations at some quarries it is difficult to extract blocks larger than approximately 200 x 100 x 20 cm.2 To make this large sculpture, three blocks of unusually large Green Hornton stone were bonded together with adhesive and secured with metal dowel rods at the quarry.3 The seam running horizontally through the middle of the sculpture is clearly visible, and Moore would have used it to guide him where to carve out the large hole in the torso so as not to undermine the strength of the composite block of stone. The other seam is visible around the figure’s neck. In the early 1970s Moore recalled that the block of stone cost him about £50.4
The reclining figure is a subject with a long history in both Western and non-Western art and Moore was familiar with numerous sculptural examples of the subject from Chacmool, a rain spirit of the ancient Toltec-Maya culture (fig.6), to Michelangelo’s carvings of allegorical figures in the Medici Chapel in Florence (fig.7). Moore believed that because the subject was so well known and understood he did not have to represent his reclining figures naturalistically; instead the subject afforded him the opportunity to experiment with ‘formal ideas’:
In Recumbent Figure, however, Moore dispensed with the square, block-like forms of the earlier works and introduced rounded holes and globular shapes. In this way Recumbent Figure is more akin to Moore’s series of reclining figures carved from elm wood which he started in 1935–6 (fig.9). Between 1935 and 1978 Moore carved six such figures in elm. He found that the wood, with its broad grain, was particularly well suited to large-scale carving, and working with larger pieces of wood than he was previously used to freed him from the constraints of size. Working on a large scale, Moore could carve right through the wood, creating holes, or negative spaces, that served to open out the inside of the sculpture and which were as important as its solid forms. These elm sculptures are thus more abstract than Moore’s earlier stone carvings, and Moore recognised that he was taking ‘steps away from realistic representation’ in rendering his figures in this way.19 Reclining Figure 1935–6 and the subsequent Recumbent Figure demonstrate how Moore was stretching the boundaries of his sculptural vocabulary, while simultaneously maintaining a commitment to the figurative form.
In the 1977 exhibition of Moore’s drawings held at the Tate Gallery, the curator Alan Wilkinson labelled the drawing now called Ideas for Sculpture: Reclining Figures 1938 (fig.13) with the title Ideas for Sculpture: Study for Tate Recumbent Figure.41 Wilkinson identified the sketch in the top left corner of the page as the definitive study for Recumbent Figure. The drawing does bear a striking resemblance to the sculpture, although here the diagonal from the right elbow to the knee is much more pronounced, as are the two arches underneath the body. However, while the left leg appears to be more prominent than that of the finished sculpture, the drawing nonetheless contains the basic design of Recumbent Figure. Wilkinson suggested that it was from this drawing that Moore created the clay maquette which he used as a reference when carving Recumbent Figure.42
The New York climate was not the only cause of damage to Moore’s sculpture while it was on display at MoMA. In June 1944 two vandals broke into the sculpture garden in the middle of the night and knocked Recumbent Figure off its plinth (fig.15). The figure’s head cracked and broke at the base of the neck (fig.16). In his letter to Rothenstein informing him of the damage, Barr downplayed the incident, stating ‘Fortunately the damage to the sculpture was less than might have been expected. The only serious damage was that the head was knocked off, as you will see from the enclosed photographs’.62
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Recumbent Figure 1938 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, January 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www