Commentary on Reclining figure, external forms (Figura reclinada, formas externas)
In the process of development of Henry Moore’s style, the first half of the 50s decade represented an important phase of maturation. The expressive force he achieved is evident in his Reclining Figure: External Form, from that period. All of his work exudes sensuality and vitality, through forms that derive from the use of undulating, organic lines. Moore defended the practice of direct carving and promoted an ideology of “sincerity with materials”. He was not concerned with perfecting human forms, but rather with capturing materials’ intrinsic energy and creating a fluid connection between form and space. Reclining Figure: External Form was cast in bronze and it incorporates the principal elements typical of Moore’s sculptural work (1). It is an emblematic piece in terms of abandoning frontality in favor of a fully three-dimensional treatment. The artist’s interest in creating space led him to incorporate holes that emphasize the three-dimensional nature of his forms and perforations that passed from one side of the block through to the other, allowing the public the opportunity to observe all faces of the object. Their undulating forms recall hills and caves. In evoking landscape, Moore is faithful not only to British landscape traditions, but also to an interest in ancient art forms. The theme of the Museum’s piece is the most representational of Moore’s sculptural work, a reclining figure (2). Moore observed: “From the very beginning, the reclining figure has been the most important theme for me. I made the first one in 1924, and since then, probably over half of my sculptures have been reclining figures” (3). The artist felt a particular attraction to this theme because of its inherent stability. A reclining figure can find equilibrium on any surface. He also recognized the expressive potential of the reclining female figure (4). Moore was the seventh of eight children, born in a small mining town in Yorkshire. He worked for a short time as a substitute teacher before enlisting in the army at the age of 18. While receiving his training in London, he was greatly inspired by the non-Western sculptures he encountered at the British Museum. During the war, Moore was based in France and participated in the battle of Cambrai, during which he suffered an attack of mustard gas that put an end to his military career. Following his convalescence, he returned to Castleford and to teaching. While working, he was awarded a veteran’s subsidy to attend the Leeds School of Art. Thanks to a scholarship, he left Leeds during his second year to attend the Royal College of Arts in London. Although he received support from some members of the teaching staff, negative criticism of his work in general led him to leave the Royal College for the Chelsea School of Art. Moore is frequently mentioned as the most important British sculptor of the 20th Century. He is known as an avant-garde, surrealist and abstract sculptor. His biomorphic abstraction also comprises surrealist and modernist impulses. He shared the surrealists’ interest in ancient non-Western cultures and found inspiration in Egyptian, Greek, Aztec, African and Oceanic forms. His stance in favor of direct carving connects his work with that of other modern sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi, Henry Guadier-Brezska and Amedeo Modigliani. The best way to appreciate Moore may well be in accordance with comments that he himself made about his own work. In a diary entry in which he discusses the beauty of a head from Egypt’s XVIII Dynasty, he wrote: “I would give anything to be able to achieve the same level of humanity, seriousness, nobility and experience, acceptance of life, distinction and aristocracy in my sculptures. Without tricks, without affectation, without shyness, looking straight ahead, motionless, but more alive than a real person. The great, ongoing conflict (for me) is to combine sculptural forms (POWER) with human sensibility and the content. In other words, to attempt to maintain Primitive Power, along with humanist content. To not worry about confronting the sculpture in marble or modeled in bronze, versus plaster, soldering, etc., but to find an essence that is common to any kind of sculpture” (5).
by Abigail Winograd
1— Moore made six Reclining Figure: External Forms. According to the catalogue raisonné of his work, the other five can be found in the following collections: The Art Institute of Chicago; Toledo Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Universidad de Friburgo and Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.
2— In the 1984 catalog that accompanied the Henry Moore: the reclining figure show, Steven Rosen clarifies that Moore handled this theme in approximately one third of his production. In a survey of his entire body of work, the author sustains that Moore reproduced the reclining figure theme on 252 occasions.
3— Henry Moore cited in: Henry Moore: the reclining figure, 1984, p. 28.
4— The majority of Moore’s reclining figures were nude women. Moore considered the nude female figure to be the base upon which his work was founded. See: Steven W. Rosen in: Henry Moore: the reclining figure, 1984, p. 13.
5— Henry Moore in: Hedgecoe, 1998, p. 12.
1955. Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1949-1954. London, Lund/Humphries, p. XXVI, figs. 28 a-e.
1960. GROHMANN, Will, Henry Moore. Berlin, Rembrandt Verlag, p. 54, figs. 47-48.
1961. Henry Moore. Paris, Musee Rodin, n. 29.
1968. RUSSELL, John, Henry Moore. New York, Putnam, p. 121, fig. 122. — SYLVESTER, David, Henry Moore. New York, F. A. Praeger, p. 85, fig. 73.
1970. MELVILLE, Robert, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969. New York, H. N. Abrams, figs. 480-481.
1971. ARGAN, Giulio Carlo, Henry Moore. New York, H. N. Abrams, fig. 119. — FEZZI, Elda, Henry Moore. London/New York/Sydney/Toronto, Hamlyn, p. 41, fig. 16.
1976. FINN, David, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Environment. New York, H. N. Abrams, p. 126-129.
1979. CARANDENTE, Giovanni, Moore e Firenze. Firenze, Il bisonte/E. Vallecchi, n. 84.
1981. MITCHINSON, David (ed.), Henry Moore Sculpture. New York, Rizzoli, p. 118, 311, figs. 235-237.
1984. Henry Moore: the reclining figure. Columbus, Columbus Museum of Art.
1997. Henry Moore: hacia el futuro, cat. exp. Buenos Aires, MNBA, reprod. color p. 16.
1998. HEDGECOE, John, A monumental vision: the sculpture of Henry Moore. New York, Collins & Brown, p. 99, 214. — MITCHINSON, David, Celebrating Moore: Works from the collection of The Henry Moore Foundation. London, University of California Press, p. 15, 62.
2008. LICHTENSTEIN, Christa, Henry Moore Work-Theory-Impact. London, Royal Academy of Arts, p. 63, 271, 367, 414, figs. 308, 420.