Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961

Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961 marks a moment of transition in Henry Moore’s work, combining the artist’s established preoccupation with reclining and seated female figures – which dominated his work of the 1950s – with his burgeoning interest in thin, blade-like forms, which characterise some of his later more abstract sculptures.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Seated Woman: Thin Neck
1961
Bronze
172 x 814 x 1036 mm
Inscribed by the artist ‘Moore’ under the figure’s left thigh
Presented by the artist 1978
Artist’s copy aside from edition of 7
T02286

Entry

Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961 is a bronze sculpture of a seated female figure, rendered schematically with no arms and truncated legs, mounted on a bronze base. The head takes the form of a triangular wedge attached to a long and exceptionally thin, blade-like neck, from which the work gets its title, and looks upwards and over the figure’s left shoulder (fig.1). The thin front plane of the face narrows from the crown to the chin, while the flat sides of the head are devoid of facial markings or features.
Fig.1
Detail of head and neck of Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Tate T02286
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Fig.2
Detail of torso of Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Tate T02286
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved


The thinness of the neck is at odds with the figure’s large, bulky torso (fig.2). Two large boulder-like protrusions, which may be regarded as breasts, project from the flat rear surface and are separated by a concave recession in the position of the sternum. The abdomen below consists of shallower horizontal protrusion made up of craggy surfaces and sharp edges, underscored by a semi-circular groove that runs horizontally across the width of the torso. This hinge-like recess connects to the top of the thighs, which form an almost square-shaped plate with a hole at its centre (fig.3). The right thigh extends upwards on a diagonal and is suspended in mid-air, while the left knee, fused to the right, leads down to a short stump that connects to the base. The figure’s buttocks, separated by a curved arch, also rest on the base, while another shallow arch connects the left buttock and the left knee.
Fig.3
Detail of legs and buttocks of Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Tate T02286
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Fig.4
Henry Moore
Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961 (rear view)
T02286
Photo © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved


Unlike the front of the sculpture the rear surface is relatively flat and uniform, resembling a thin shield-like form comparable to a tortoise shell (fig.4). This shell, which has a mottled, slightly uneven surface, is thinner around the edges and has an oval-shaped ridge that runs vertically down its centre, which gives the impression that the body is pressing against it from the other side.

From plaster to bronze

Seated Woman: Thin Neck originated from a small plaster maquette, probably made in 1960.1 During the late 1950s Moore had begun to make small plaster models or maquettes to develop his sculptural ideas. In 1978 he explained:
I have gradually changed from using preliminary drawings for my sculptures to working from the beginning in three-dimensions. That is, I first make a maquette for any idea I have for a sculpture. The maquette is only three or four inches in size, and I can hold it in my hand, turning it over to look at it from above, underneath, and in fact from any angle.2
It is likely that Moore made the plaster maquette for Seated Woman: Thin Neck in the small sculpture studio on the grounds of his home, Hoglands, in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. The studio also housed his ever growing collection of natural objects and according to the filmmaker John Read, Moore liked to ‘shut himself away here, rummaging around, pondering and exploring’ the shapes of bones, shells and flint stones.3 In 1963 Moore explained to the critic David Sylvester how he borrowed and reconfigured the shapes of these objects for his own designs:
I look at them, handle them, see them from all round, and I may press them into clay and pour plaster into that clay and get a start as a bit of plaster, which is a reproduction of the object. And then add to it, change it. In that sort of way something turns out in the end that you could never have thought of the day before.4
It is likely that the undulating torso of Seated Woman: Thin Neck was produced by pressing a stone or bone into clay and pouring plaster into the depression it left. This piece of plaster would have then become the basis of the small maquette. The thin rim and smooth face of the figure’s back is consistent with the shape that would have been formed by plaster spilling over the flat upper surface of the mould. Once these pieces of plaster had hardened Moore could then add or subtract forms, and smooth or sharpen edges and points as he wished.
Fig.5
Photograph of bronze cast of Maquette for Seated Woman: Thin Neck c.1960
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In 1960 Moore cast his plaster maquette in a bronze edition of eleven, which is numbered 471 in the artist’s catalogue raisonné.5 A photograph held in the Henry Moore Foundation Archive shows the bronze maquette in a woodland setting (fig.5). The low angle of the photograph suggests that Moore may have used this image to consider what the sculpture might look like on a larger scale for, as the art historian Elizabeth Brown has noted, the photograph ‘eliminates clues about its actual size’.6 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. In the same way, with my small plaster maquettes, I am thinking of something much larger. By looking at a maquette close to, I can relate it to some distant object and imagine it as huge. It’s all a question of mental scale and not physical size.7
The plaster maquette would have served as the template for the larger sculpture. The first stage in the scaling-up process involved taking detailed measurements of the small maquette, which were then multiplied according to the ratio of enlargement. An internal armature corresponding to these specifications was then constructed from lengths of wood joined together by scrim, a bandage like fabric soaked in wet plaster (fig.6). Each length of wood was precisely measured so that its end point corresponded with a ‘landmark’ or specific point on the surface of the sculpture.8 This enlargement process would have probably been carried out in the White Studio in the grounds of Hoglands by one or more of Moore’s sculpture assistants, who in 1961 included Clive Sheppard and Bill Smith. Moore was able to allocate the bulk of this work to his assistants because, as curator Julie Summers has noted, it was ‘a scientific rather than artistic process’.9 Successive layers of plaster were then built up over the armature and the sculpture began to gain mass and form. Moore would have taken over towards the end to texture the surface using an array of tools including chisels, files and sandpaper (fig.7). Cast directly from the plaster, the bronze retained these different textures.
Fig.6
Armature for Seated Woman: Thin Neck draped in scrim, 1961
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Henry Moore 'Seated Woman: Thin Neck' 1961
Fig.7
Henry Moore
Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Fig.8
Detail of patina of Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Tate T02286
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Seated Woman: Thin Neck is not stamped with a foundry mark but records held at the Henry Moore Foundation confirm that it was cast at the Art Bronze Foundry in London in 1961. Traces of investment in the crevices of the sculpture suggest that it was cast using the lost wax method, which would have required the foundry to cut the plaster sculpture into sections and make moulds from each piece, into which the molten bronze could be poured. Once all of the individual bronze pieces were cast they were welded together, and the resulting seams filed down until they were virtually imperceptible.
The sculpture would then have been cleaned before a patina was applied. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the bronze surface. A dark base layer was probably applied to this sculpture first, followed by blue-green and then lighter green layers. There are several green drip marks on the upper thigh and buttock region of the figure and yellowish patches are visible in a number of areas (fig.8). Although the sculpture was coated in a layer of protective wax, the patina has dulled around the edges of the figure’s back.

Sources and development

Moore explained the origins of this work in an undated statement reproduced in Philip James’s 1966 book Henry Moore on Sculpture:
Since my student days I have liked the shape of bones, and have drawn them, studied them in the Natural History Museum, found them on sea-shores and saved them out of the stewpot ... There are many structural and sculptural principles to be learnt from bones, e.g. that in spite of their lightness they have great strength. Some bones, such as the breast bones of birds, have the lightweight fineness of a knife-blade. Finding such a bone led to me using this knife-edge thinness in 1961 in a sculpture Seated Woman (thin neck). In this figure the thin neck and head, by contrast with the width and bulk of the body, give more monumentality to the work.10
In that it follows from a series of reclining and seated women made in the late 1950s and precedes a sequence of sculptures based on the knife-edge form in the early 1960s, Seated Woman: Thin Neck may be regarded as a transitional work in which Moore’s figurative and abstract preoccupations were brought together.
A photograph taken by John Hedgecoe and published in 1968 shows the head and shoulders of Seated Woman: Thin Neck alongside those of another female figure sculpture, probably Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (Tate T06825).11 Commenting on this photograph in Hedgecoe’s book Moore asserted that ‘the contrast of these two heads shows that facial features are not essential for expression. With her long neck, one is distant and proud while the other is more sympathetic’.12 In the same publication Moore also stated that ‘in figurative sculpture, the head is, for me, the vital unit. It gives scale to the rest of the sculpture and, apart from its features, its poise on the neck has tremendous significance’.13 His use of the more dramatic and angular knife-edge form in place of an identifiable, if out-of-proportion, neck and head distinguishes this work from the female figures of the 1950s.
Henry Moore 'Standing Figure Knife Edge' 1961
Fig.9
Henry Moore
Standing Figure Knife Edge 1961
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore developed his use of the knife edge in Standing Figure Knife Edge 1961 (fig.9), an abbreviated representation of a standing human figure featuring a rounded protrusion at the top denoting a head, and a diagonal ridge halfway up the sculpture that occupies the position of the waist. The main body of the sculpture comprises two vertically orientated, blade-like surfaces, creating what Moore described in 1966 as a ‘knife-edged thinness throughout a whole figure’.14
Henry Moore
Fig.10
Henry Moore
King and Queen 1952–3, cast 1957
Tate T00228
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In 1965, in a discussion of Seated Woman: Thin Neck and Standing Figure Knife Edge, the art critic Herbert Read argued that ‘the real significance of these figures is the sculptor’s ability to represent volume by means of bone-like structure’.15 What Read found astonishing in these works was the way in which Moore was able to convey bodily volume through the use of such thin forms. However, although this was more explicit in Seated Woman: Thin Neck and Standing Figure Knife Edge, Moore had represented figures in similar ways in earlier works. For instance, King and Queen 1952–3 (Tate T00228; fig.10) presents a couple with wide and apparently solid torsos that reveal their thinness only when viewed from the side. Discussing King and Queen in the Times in 1954 an unnamed critic noted the effects of flattening the figures’ bodies, remarking that ‘Mr Moore’s unwavering sense of form is manifest in his ability to suggest volume in the act of destroying it’.16 This claim could equally apply to the experience of viewing Seated Woman: Thin Neck.
A cast of Seated Woman: Thin Neck was exhibited at Marlborough Fine Art in London between July and August 1963. The catalogue for the exhibition described it as a solo display of new works by Moore, but the gallery space was in fact shared with paintings by Francis Bacon. Tate acquired Moore’s Working Model for Knife Edge Two Piece 1962 (Tate T00603) and Bacon’s Study for Portrait on Folding Bed 1963 (Tate T00604) from this exhibition.
The critical response to the two-person show was generally positive, with Nigel Gosling writing in the Observer that ‘any exhibition paring Henry Moore and Francis Bacon is sure to be a hit’.17 In addition to Seated Woman: Thin Neck, recent works on display included casts of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.1 1961–2 (Tate T02289) and Locking Piece 1963–4 (Tate T02293). Writing in the Times the critic David Thompson asserted that ‘Moore has never looked grander, more inventive, more the absolute master of his means of expression’.18 Similarly, Gosling reflected that ‘at 65, Moore might be expected to be slowing down in invention, but here he seems to be as fertile as ever. He not only solves problems – we all know he can do that. He finds fascinating problems to solve’.19 Gosling identified Seated Woman: Thin Neck as a ‘perfectly finished piece ... Her back is a shield, her head an axe, her lap is a blow-hole in the rock. She twists and yet sits firm; she has no explicit breasts or arms or legs but makes you feel they are somewhere around’.20 In a review for the Listener the curator Bryan Robertson identified the shift that had occurred between Moore’s sculptures of female figures in the 1950s and the works on show at Marlborough Fine Art, reserving special praise for the power of the later works:
The new sculpture of Henry Moore confirms a feeling that after marking time for a while in the nineteen-fifties he has moved through to an intensity of feeling and constructive energy which has demanded and found a considerable extension of sculptural language. The knife-edge forms, the three-piece reclining figure ... the locking piece and the knife-edge two-piece confrontation are all brilliant and forceful inventions. The essence of Moore’s work is always to be found in his grimmest or most ferocious sculpture; his matronly figures and other sweeter preoccupations lack the conviction and the formal power of his darker side.21

The Henry Moore Gift

Fig.11
Detail of artist's signature and edition number on Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961
Tate T02286
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Seated Woman: Thin Neck was presented by Henry Moore to the Tate Gallery in 1978 as part of the Henry Moore Gift. The Gift comprised thirty-six sculptures in bronze, marble and plaster and was exhibited in its entirety alongside Tate’s existing collection of Moore’s work in an exhibition celebrating the artist’s eightieth birthday, which opened in June 1978. A press release was duly prepared announcing that ‘The group [of sculptures] is the most substantial gift of works ever given to the Tate by an artist during his lifetime’.22 Seated Woman: Thin Neck was displayed in gallery twenty of the exhibition alongside Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960 (Tate T00395). The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.23 At its close in late August the Director of Tate, Norman Reid, reflected in a letter to Moore’s daughter Mary Danowski that although he was sad to see the exhibition come to an end ‘we have the consolation of the splendid group of sculptures which Henry has presented to the nation’.24
Seated Woman: Thin Neck was cast in an edition of seven plus one artist’s cast. Tate’s version is stamped with the edition number ‘0/7’, indicating that this was the artist’s copy (fig.11). The full-size original plaster is held in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Other bronze casts are held in the collections of the Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green; Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota; Des Moines Arts Centre, Des Moines; and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle. The remaining casts are believed to be in private collections.

Alice Correia
October 2013

Notes

1
See Henry Moore: Large Late Forms, exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, London 2012, p.34
2
Henry Moore cited in Gemma Levine, With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work, London 1978, p.123.
3
John Read in Henry Moore: One Yorkshireman Looks at His World, dir. by John Read, television programme, broadcast BBC 2, 11 November 1967, http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/henrymoore/8807.shtml, accessed 3 November 2013.
4
Henry Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, broadcast BBC Radio, 14 July 1963, p.18, Tate Archive TGA 200816. (An edited version of this interview was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7.)
5
Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 3: Sculpture and Drawings 1955–64, 1965, revised edn, London 1986, p.46.
6
Elizabeth Brown, ‘Moore Looking: Photography and the Presentation of Sculpture’, in Dorothy Kosinski (ed.), Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century, exhibition catalogue, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas 2001, p.290.
7
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.266.
8
See Richard Wentworth, ‘The Going Concern: Working For Moore’, Burlington Magazine, vol.130, no.1029, December 1988, p.928.
9
Julie Summers, ‘Fragment of Maquette for King and Queen’, in Claude Allemand-Cosneau, Manfred Fath and David Mitchinson (eds.), Henry Moore From the Inside Out: Plasters, Carvings and Drawings, Munich 1996, p.126.
10
Henry Moore cited in Philip James (ed.), Henry Moore on Sculpture: A Collection of the Sculptor’s Writings and Spoken Words, London 1966, p.278.
11
See John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.159
12
Moore cited in Hedgecoe 1968, p.358.
13
Ibid., p.233.
14
Moore cited James 1966, p.278.
15
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work, London 1965, pp.243–4.
16
Anon., ‘Mr Moore’s New Bronzes: An Experimental Phase’, Times, 15 February 1954, p.4.
17
Nigel Gosling, ‘Vision and Nightmare: Art’, Observer, 14 July 1963, p.27.
18
[David Thompson], ‘New Work by Henry Moore and Francis Bacon’, Times, 12 July 1963, p.5.
19
Gosling 1963, p.27.
20
Ibid., p.27.
21
Bryan Robertson, ‘Moore and Bacon’, Listener, 25 July 1963, pp.127–8.
22
See ‘Note on the Henry Moore Gift’, 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
23
These figures are based on those listed in a memo in the exhibition’s records; see Tate Public Records TG 92/344/2.
24
Norman Reid, letter to Mary Danowski, 31 August 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Seated Woman: Thin Neck 1961 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, October 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-seated-woman-thin-neck-r1172003, accessed 23 May 2019.