Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown

Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963 exemplifies how Moore developed and refined his long-standing interest in the subject of the reclining figure in the early 1960s by dividing it into individual parts. However, unlike his earlier multi-part figurative sculptures – the forms of which evoke natural features such as rocks and cliffs – the smooth lines and interconnecting components of this work recall elements of architectural structures.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop
1963, cast date unknown
1049 x 2417 x 1103 mm
Inscribed ‘Moore 0/6’ and ‘H. NOACK BERLIN’ on central foot
Presented by the artist 1978
Artist’s copy aside from edition of 6


Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop was made in 1963 and comprises three separate bronze segments positioned on a bronze base that together may be understood to represent a reclining human figure. The tallest section appears to represent a head and neck, implying that the smaller central section represents a torso, while the third section in the arrangement occupies the position of the figure’s legs. Although the gender of the figure is unspecified, Moore’s multi-piece reclining figures are usually regarded as female. This sculpture is the second in a series of three-piece works created during the 1960s, and is closely related to the earlier Three Piece Reclining Figure No.1 1961–2 (Tate T02289).
Detail of head section of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of central section of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The head of the figure does not possess any naturalistic facial features but can be recognized due to its position within the composition. It is denoted by a thin, flat shape that protrudes upwards at an angle from a diagonally orientated tubular column representing the spine, which rests on the base (fig.1). A rounded, shelf-like form, which could be shoulders, breasts or the sternum, extends horizontally towards the central section of the sculpture on which it rests, balancing at two points. The central piece is the shortest in height of the three sections but the longest in length (fig.2). Two short appendages separated by a shallow arch support one end of a thick upper surface that curves downwards elegantly from the shoulders towards the base, creating an arch underneath. At the point where it meets the base this upper surface expands in thickness before rising back upwards to create a tilted, concave top that aligns neatly with the leg section. This piece also rests on the base at three points that rise upwards to two peaks, which may be understood as knees (fig.3). In between the supporting legs are two triangular arches that seem to echo the trough carved out between the knees above and which, like the head, appear to lean towards one side.
Detail of leg section of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown (side view)
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

When seen from the side, a truncated protrusion appears to jut out from behind the knees towards the central piece, accentuating the gap between these two parts (fig.4). However, from the same viewpoint it is evident that all of the pieces appear to lean forwards at a diagonal angle, unifying the individual parts in a collective directional pull. The pieces are also connected by the sweep of a continuous curved line that can be traced along the length of the figure from the head to the knee, bridging the gaps between each section.

From plaster to bronze

Moore developed his ideas for his three-piece sculptures with a series of small maquettes. By the early 1960s Moore had moved away from making preliminary drawings for his sculptures and had started making small three-dimensional models in plaster and other malleable materials. It is probable that he made the maquette for Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop in the maquette studio on the grounds of his home, Hoglands, at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. This studio was lined with shelves displaying Moore’s ever growing collection of found bones, shells and flint stones, the shapes of which often served as starting points for Moore’s formal experiments in three dimensions. In 1967 Moore explained, ‘when I study a bone, I look for its human implications. Taste is not the guide. I’m not interested in the niceties of a shape’.1 A few years earlier Moore had explained to the critic David Sylvester how exactly he worked with these natural objects:
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.2
Henry Moore 'Three Piece Reclining Figure: Maquette No.1' 1961
Henry Moore
Three Piece Reclining Figure: Maquette No.1 1961
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore made numerous maquettes for three-piece sculptures between 1961 and 1963 using this technique. In 1964 he noted, ‘I make all my original models in ordinary plaster. Modern synthetic plasters don’t interest me’.3 Although some of these maquettes, such as Three Piece Reclining Figure: Maquette No.1 1961 (fig.5), were cast in bronze as small table-top sculptures, not all of them were scaled up to full size. Moore explained:
Sometimes I make ten or twenty maquettes for every one that I use in a large scale – the others may get rejected. If a maquette keeps its interest enough for me to want to realise it as a full-size final work, then I might make a working model in an intermediate size, in which changes will be made before going to the real, full-sized sculpture. Changes get made at all these stages.4
Fragments of plaster maquette for Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
The only pieces of the original small maquette for Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop that have survived are the head and central pieces, which are held in the collection of the Henry Moore Foundation (fig.6). The maquette was not cast in bronze and it is not known whether Moore created an intermediary working model before scaling it up to full size. Either way, the enlargement process would have involved charting and measuring specific points on the surface of the maquette to ensure the sculpture was scaled up accurately. This probably would have been carried out in the White Studio at Hoglands and undertaken by one or more of Moore’s sculpture assistants, who in 1963 included Geoffrey Greetham, Robert Holding, Roland Piché, Ron Robertson-Swann and Isaac Witkin.
Detail of surface texture on leg section of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02289
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
In order to make the full-size plaster from which the bronze would be cast, Moore and his assistants would have initially constructed an armature to the required size and shape for each section of the sculpture. The armature would have been made up of numerous lengths of wood and possibly chicken wire, and then draped in scrim, a bandage like fabric. Successive layers of plaster could then be applied to the structure, while the interior of the armature remained hollow. Moore’s assistants would have done much of this work, building up layers of plaster over the armature and scrim until only a short section of each armature rod was exposed. The armature served not only a structural purpose, but was also used to facilitate the enlargement process, with the end of each rod corresponding to a precise point on the surface of the sculpture. Moore explained, ‘once they [the assistants] have brought the work within an inch or so of the measurements I intend it to be, I take it over, and then it becomes a thing I’m working on as it would if I had brought it to that stage myself’.5 After modelling the sculpture to the required shape and form, Moore could then concentrate on the surface texture. Using an array of tools – including spatulas, cheese graters and chisels – Moore could create different types of markings, grooves and cuts depending on the wetness of the plaster. Moore found plaster to be a very useful material because it could be ‘both built up, as in modelling, or cut down, in the way you carve stone or wood’.6 The surface texture of the plaster was captured in the casting process and an examination of the bronze surface of this sculpture shows that Moore created a range of textures, from fine horizontal lines on the leg piece (fig.7) to deep gouges in the head section.
Detail of artist's signature, edition number and foundry stamp on Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Once Moore was satisfied with the surface finish of the plaster sculpture and was sure that he wanted to proceed with the casting process, he sent it to a specialist foundry to be cast in bronze. Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop exists in an edition of six, plus one artist’s copy. The edition was cast at two different foundries: numbers one, two and three were cast at Corinthian Bronze Co. Ltd in London, and numbers four, five and six at Noack in West Berlin. Tate’s cast is numbered ‘0/6’ (fig.8) indicating that it was the artist’s copy, and is stamped with the mark of the Noack foundry. Moore may have changed foundries half way through the edition because he preferred Noack’s methods (Corinthian is known to have used the sand-casting technique whereas Noack practised the lost wax technique) or because Noack may have offered a cheaper quote for undertaking the work.7 During the 1950s and early 1960s Moore used a number of different foundries in London and Paris but started working with Noack in 1958 following an introduction by the dealer Harry Fischer.8 By then Noack was regarded as one of the best bronze foundries able to undertake large-scale castings and in 1967 Moore stated, ‘I use the Noack foundry for casting most of my work because in my opinion, Noack is the best bronze founder I know ... Also, the Noack foundry is reliable in all ways – in keeping to dates of delivery – and in sustaining the quality of their work’.9
The level of detail on Tate’s bronze copy of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop suggests that it was cast using the lost wax technique, which would have required the full-size plaster version to be carved up into smaller pieces so that moulds could be created of each piece. The inside of each mould would have been ‘greased’ with a releasing agent before molten wax was poured into it. Once the wax had hardened it could be released from the mould, forming an exact replica of the sculpture in wax. The wax would then be encased in a hard refractory material, placed in a kiln and heated until it melted. Channels within the casing would allow the wax to drain away and, once empty, the cavity was filled with molten bronze. After the bronze had hardened the casing could be removed, revealing the section of sculpture. Once all the pieces of the sculpture had been cast in this way they would be welded together. Finally, the casting seams would have been filed down so that the joins between each section were practically imperceptible.
Detail of patina on Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
After being assembled at the foundry the bronze sculpture was returned to Moore so that he could check the quality of the casting and make decisions about patination. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the pre-heated bronze surface. In 1963 Moore asserted, ‘I always patinate bronze myself’, explaining that since he had conceived the sculpture it would be unlikely that someone else would be able to replicate the exact colour he wanted.10 However, it is known that Noack would sometimes patinate Moore’s sculpture at the foundry. But even in these instances Moore was still able to adjust the patina when the sculpture was returned to the studio. Tate’s sculpture has a variegated brown patina, punctuated with reddish-amber areas and dark green shades, which have been maintained by sealing the bronze in a wax coating (fig.9).

Sources and development

Henry Moore 'Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure' 1934
Henry Moore
Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure 1934
Tate T02054
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Moore’s series of three-piece sculptures developed from the two-piece sculptures he made between 1959 and 1963, which themselves had their origins in his multi-part sculptures from the 1930s, such as Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure 1934 (T02054, fig.10). In 1968 Moore explained that in 1933–4 ‘I began separating forms from each other in order to be able to relate space and form together’.11 This development allowed Moore to reconfigure the position of limbs to create compositional arrangements in which space became an active component of the sculpture, a feature that became more accentuated in his larger scale work of the 1960s. It also meant that individual forms could represent more than just anatomical features without severing the unity of the body, as Moore explained to David Sylvester in 1963:
The two-piece sculptures pose a problem like the kind of relationship between two people. And it’s very different once you divide a thing into three: then you have two ends and a middle. In the two-piece you have just the head end and the body end or the head end and the leg end, but once you get the three-piece you have the middle and the two ends, and this became something that I wanted to do ... three is enough to make the difference from two. That is what one tried to make: it is a connecting-piece carrying through from one end to the other like you might have with a snake.12
Henry Moore 'Three-Piece Reclining Figure No.1' 1961–2, cast date unknown
Henry Moore
Three-Piece Reclining Figure No.1 1961–2, cast date unknown
Tate T02289
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Detail of interlocking pieces of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Moore made his first three-piece reclining figure in 1961–2 (fig.11). In this work, each of the three pieces are spaced apart from each other at equal intervals, whereas in Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop the head section leans on the central section (fig.12) while the legs stand alone at the other end of the composition. Importantly, the head and central sections actually interlock in a way that is reminiscent of shoulder or hip joints. Writing in 1968, the critic Donald Hall noted this feature of the work:
The pieces touch, and could have been cast together, but are actually separate, and the sense of leaning is enormously salient. The head part, or Prop, leans on the Bridge, and one feels the pressure, yet one knows that the Bridge will never move under this pressure. The elegance and restraint of the head, its lightness, creates a repose which equals the pressure of leaning. The foot part leans away, in the same direction as the Prop, but is brought to rest by the counter-prop of a middle leg. The sculpture is a system of improvised resolutions, and it is never merely symmetrical.13
It is probable that while making this work Moore was looking at bone fragments and thinking about how skeletons are made up of multiple interlocking units. This interest in interconnecting parts was developed further in Locking Piece 1963–4 (Tate T02293).
Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop is one of Moore’s most complex representations of the reclining figure, a subject that preoccupied him throughout his career. In 1968 Moore reflected on the centrality of the reclining figure to his work, suggesting that the motif offered opportunities to experiment with form:
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.14
In a manner comparable to Cézanne’s representation of mass and volume, Moore’s distillation of the human body into forms of various size and shape allowed him stretch the boundaries of his sculptural vocabulary while retaining a commitment to figurative art.
Henry Moore 'Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2' 1960, cast 1961–2
Henry Moore
Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960, cast 1961–2
Tate T00395
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Unlike Moore’s earlier two- and three-piece reclining figures such as Two-Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960 (fig.13) – the forms of which have been compared to natural formations such as mountainous peaks and eroded cliff faces15 – interpretations of Three-Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop have compared the sculpture’s smooth surfaces and sleek curves to man-made structures. For example, in 1965 the art historian Herbert Read remarked that the head, shoulders, torso and lower limbs of the figure ‘have been smoothed and given a graceful curvilinear rhythm; they rest on the pedestal like the arches of a bridge’.16 David Sylvester also asserted that unlike its immediate predecessors, ‘Bridge Prop has clean-cut forms, virtually smooth surfaces, and is neither rock-like nor in any other way landscapeish’.17 Although he acceded that the two end pieces were ‘organic’, Sylvester noted that ‘the middle form looks man-made, architectonic – a bridge between the ends that is arched like a bridge, and a prop for the head end’.18 In 1970 Moore explained the sculpture’s lengthy title, underlining the influence of engineering in the development of the work:
Its name, like so many of the titles I give to my sculptures is descriptive ... The words Bridge and Prop came about because if one looks at the sculpture, with its base at eye level, then it makes a series of arches, or bridges (it reminded me while doing it of the views underneath Waterloo Bridge from the embankment, which I often pass when taking a taxi from Liverpool Street Station to the West End). Prop applies to the arm that props up the head and shoulder part against the middle piece – and the two words just got joined together, and became Bridge-Prop.19

Critical reception

A cast of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop was exhibited at Moore’s commercial gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, at its premises in London in July 1965 as part of a two-person exhibition that Moore shared with the painter Francis Bacon. An unnamed critic reviewing the show for the Times stated that the ‘the art of Mr Moore continues in its pace of unhurried majesty’.20 The term majesty was also used by the critic G.S. Whittet, who wrote in the art magazine Studio International that he was struck by ‘the strength of his imagery and his full majesty of those forms that create presences of themselves’.21 Writing in the Spectator magazine, Bryan Robertson, curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, noted that, ‘Moore’s invincible sense of human resilience ... is sometimes frozen into hard, wary monumentality as in the recent Bridge Prop reclining figure, but his surrealist instinct makes it hard to tell hot from cold, flesh from bone, helmet or shell from leathery skin’.22
The cast of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop belonging to the Leeds City Art Gallery was included in Moore’s retrospective exhibition held at the Tate Gallery in 1968. In an extended review of the show, the sculptor William Tucker suggested that the horizontality of Moore’s reclining figures such as Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop, which illustrated the review, allowed younger sculptors such as Anthony Caro to develop and open up the horizontal plane in new ways, arguing that ‘Moore’s re-discovery or at least re-affirmation for modern art of the horizontal axis has been his most fruitful contribution’.23
In 1970 the photographer and collector David Finn collaborated with the critic Donald Hall on a book dedicated to Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop called As the Eye Moves... A Sculpture by Henry Moore, in which 150 photographs taken by Finn of cast number six of the sculpture are accompanied by texts by Hall and Moore. The photographs examine the sculpture from different angles and were taken at different times of day, at different times of the year, and in different lighting conditions. In his foreword to the book Moore noted that:
I have always found photographic sculpture difficult ... I suggested that David Finn might publish a book of his photographs of this one piece, so that anyone who studied all the photographs together, might learn how the various forms of a piece of sculpture can fit together. Some of these pictures are so different that one can scarcely believe that they are taken of the same piece of sculpture ... The single work seems to be many.24

The Henry Moore Gift

Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop installed in the Tate Gallery in 1978
Tate T02292
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 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’.25 Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop was exhibited in gallery eighteen, alongside Working Model for Three Way Piece No.2: Archer 1964 (Tate T02298), Two Piece Sculpture No.7: Pipe 1966 (Tate T02300), and Upright Form Knife-Edge 1966 (Tate T01172) (fig.14). The exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.26 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’.27
The other casts of Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop can be found in the collections of the Leeds City Art Gallery, the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, Providence, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. Moore’s original plaster is held in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Cast number three of the edition was sold at Sotheby’s to a private collector in February 2012 for £3,289,250.28

Alice Correia
March 2014


Albert Elsen, ‘Henry Moore’s Reflections on Sculpture’, Art Journal, vol.26, no.4, Summer 1967, p.355.
Henry Moore cited in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, BBC Radio, broadcast 14 July 1963, p.18 Tate Archive TGA 200816. (An edited version of this interview was published in Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7).
Henry Moore cited in Mervyn Levy, ‘Henry Moore: Sculpture Against the Sky’, Studio International, vol.167, no.853, May 1964, p.179.
Henry Moore cited in Gemma Levine, With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work, London 1978, p.57.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Hall, ‘Henry Moore: An Interview by Donald Hall’, Horizon, November 1960, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.226.
Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, London 1968, p.300.
For information on Corinthian Bronze Co. Ltd see ‘British Bronze Sculpture Founders and Plaster Figure Makers, 1800–1980’, http://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/british-bronze-founders-and-plaster-figure-makers-1800-1980-1/british-bronze-founders-and-plaster-figure-makers-1800-1980-c.php, accessed 5 August 2013.
See Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, 2nd edn, London 2003, p.323–4.
Henry Moore, letter to Heinz Ohff, 8 March 1967, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 1963, pp.3–4.
Moore cited in Hedgecoe 1968, p.75.
Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 1963, pp.31–2.
Donald Hall, ‘Foreword’, in David Finn and Donald Hall, As the Eye Moves... A Sculpture by Henry Moore, New York 1970, p.17.
Henry Moore cited in John Russell, Henry Moore, 1968, revised edn, London 1973, p.48.
See Alice Correia, ‘Two Piece Reclining Figure No.2 1960, cast 1961–2 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research/content/1171982?project=4, accessed 21 April 2015.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work, London 1965, p.234.
David Sylvester, Henry Moore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1968, p.94.
Henry Moore cited in Finn and Hall 1970, p.16.
Anon., ‘Bacon and Moore Again in Powerful Relation’, Times, 14 July 1965, p.15.
G.S. Whittet, ‘Farewell to Flat, Goodbye to Square: London Commentary’, Studio International, October 1965, pp.169.
Bryan Robertson, ‘Behind the Pulpit’, Spectator, 13 August 1965, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
William Tucker, ‘Moore at the Tate’, Studio International, vol.176, no.904, October 1968, p.124.
Moore cited in Finn and Hall 1970, p.10.
See ‘Note on the Henry Moore Gift’, 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
These figures are based on those listed in a memo in the exhibition’s records; see Tate Public Records TG 92/344/2.
Norman Reid, letter to Mary Danowski, 31 August 1978, Tate Public Records TG 4/6/10/4.
Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, sales catalogue, Sotheby’s, London, 8 February 2012, lot 33, http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2012/impressionist-modernt-art-evening-sale-l12002/lot.33.html, accessed 5 August 2013.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Three Piece Reclining Figure No.2: Bridge Prop 1963, cast date unknown by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, March 2014, 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-three-piece-reclining-figure-no2-bridge-prop-r1171985, accessed 15 July 2020.