Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure
1957, cast c.1959–61
1440 x 2440 x 1220 mm, 730 kg
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1960
Number 2 in an edition of 7
Technique and condition
The base is made of wood and covered with copper sheets that have been patinated a dark brown colour with some pale green stippling. A seam runs down the centre of the base from end to end revealing where two sheets meet. The top surface of the base is textured with rows of small marks, probably made by lightly hammering a fork or claw chisel into the copper sheet (fig.5). Some edges and central areas of the base have become severely dented, perhaps caused by movements of the sculpture before it was permanently fixed in place. It has not been possible to examine the fixings underneath the base but the sculpture is likely to be attached with bolts at the figure’s left elbow and at various points where the legs and feet meet the base.
The sculpture is signed ‘Moore’ and marked ‘II/V’ at the bottom of the figure’s leg (fig.6), and the foundry mark ‘GUSS. H. Noack. Berlin’ can be seen on the feet at the back of the sculpture close to the base (fig.7). A plaque is fixed to the front side of the base to record the fact that it was presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery in 1960.
How to citeLyndsey Morgan, 'Technique and Condition', January 2014, in Alice Correia, ‘Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure 1957, cast c.1959–61 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, December 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www
The face of the sculpture has a dappled appearance and features two unevenly positioned eye sockets (fig.2). Two small irregularly shaped circular depressions on the front of the face may be regarded as nostrils, despite the absence of a nose. Underneath these is a very lightly incised line, suggestive of a mouth. The rear of the head has been marked with deep gouges and striations to evoke hair, contrasting with the much smoother neck. In comparison to the rest of the body the head and neck appear disproportionately small, and are notable for the way in which they lean slightly backwards, giving the impression that the figure is looking up and over the ridge formed by the right leg.
The roughly square-shaped torso balances on the bulbous left elbow and features two holes, one higher up marking the pit of the left arm and another penetrating the lower abdomen. A large round cavity has been carved into the figure’s back, accentuating its depth, while on the chest a bulky sternum projects forward. From the rear, the body can be seen to extend into a large, anatomically ambiguous, wedge-shaped protrusion that creates a shallow arch over the base (fig.3). The large right leg looms over this form and, from the front, resembles a three-sided arch with an angled upper face. The lower left leg rests horizontally on the front of the base and converges with the downward pointing calf of the right leg (fig.4). A prominent central gap separates the two legs, through which can be seen the large rear form.
The Unesco commission
In February 1957 Moore took four maquettes to Paris to be judged by Marcel Breuer, the architect of the new Unesco headquarters, and members of the organisation’s art advisory committee. Every person independently selected the same work, which, as it happens, was also Moore’s favourite (fig.8).9 The panel also accepted Moore’s suggestion to change the material in which the sculpture would be made from bronze to travertine marble. The art historian Margaret Garlake has revealed that ‘after receiving the formal commission in May 1957, Moore completed the half-size working model by early August, more than two years after the initiation of the project’.10 The plaster working model was an enlarged version of the maquette, but smaller than the proposed final sculpture (fig.9). Constructing a working model allowed Moore to refine the composition of his design and consider the arrangement of forms on a larger scale prior to embarking on the full-size work.
In order to make the plaster working model Moore and his assistants would first have had to construct an armature for the sculpture to the required size and shape. The armature was probably made from lengths of wood and wire, and then draped or wrapped in layers of scrim, a bandage-like fabric. Layers of plaster were then applied to the armature while its interior remained hollow (fig.10). Moore’s assistants would have completed most of the preliminary work on the working model, including applying successive layers of plaster to the armature and scrim until only a short section of each armature rod was exposed. 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’.11 During this final stage Moore began to work into the surface of the sculpture (fig.11). Using an array of tools different marks and textures could be achieved depending on the wetness of the plaster as it dried. 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’.12 According to Strachan, the head of Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure ‘with its slight upward tilt, symbolically as well as plastically so effective, is the climax of the conception ... Moore took immense pains over the placing of the eye socket. Formalized as usual but by no means arbitrarily, their depth and expression set the mood of the whole’.13 In 1965 Read also noted that ‘the head has an air of alert expectancy, of intelligent curiosity’.14
In September 1957 a plaster working model for the Unesco sculpture arrived at the Société S. Henraux quarry at Querceta in Italy, where the full-size marble sculpture was carved.15 Using the working model as a template, the artisans at Henraux measured and scaled up the sculpture and roughed out its shape from four large blocks of stone. Moore made regular trips to Italy to oversee the carving, which was completed in the summer of 1958. Unesco Reclining Figure, weighing a total of thirty-eight tons and over sixteen feet long and eight feet high, was installed in Paris in October 1958 ready for the inauguration of the Unesco building in November.
From plaster to bronze
Contexts and interpretations
The close formal relationships between Moore’s work of the 1930s and the much later Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure are indicative of Moore’s abiding interest in natural forms and processes. Discussing Moore’s Unesco sculpture, the art historian Christa Lichtenstern argued in 2008 that ‘with the natural rhythms of its vibrant forms, this reclining figure epitomises Moore’s view of civilisation as an “organic process”’.19
Henry Moore and the Tate collection
How to cite
Alice Correia, ‘Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure 1957, cast c.1959–61 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, December 2013, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www