Inscribed Moore and numbered 7/8
Polished bronze and string
Height: 4 7/8" (12.4 cm)
Conceived in 1938 and cast in 1966
Edition of 8 plus 1
Henry Moore was one of the 20th century’s great sculptors and after the Second World War he became Britain’s best known artist, both at home and abroad. He was influenced by European Modernism and developed an abstract sculptural language around the human figure.
Just as the human body inspired Moore’s forms, so too did the natural world. He often derived ideas from objects such as pebbles, shells and bones, and the way he evoked them in his sculpture encouraged the viewer to look upon the natural world as one endlessly varied sculpture, created continually by natural processes. Moore’s studio was crammed with what he called ‘library of natural forms’ which he used as direct influences for his sculptures – as he explained in 1963 to critic David Sylvester:
I look at them, handle them, see them from all round, and I may press then 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.
Flint stones in Henry Moore’s studio
Additionally, Moore’s abstracted standing figures have often been likened to Britain’s and Northern Europe’s Neolithic standing stones. Indeed the sculptor visited Stonehenge in 1921, and retained an interest in these extraordinary forms throughout his career, culminating his ‘Upright Motives’ and later his Stonehenge lithographs of 1972–3.
In essence, Stringed Figure, 1938 can be seen a direct synthesis of the two concepts discussed above; conjuring images of both the natural world and the human body simultaneously – in doing so Moore created a picture of humanity as a powerful natural force. Drawing inspiration from Oceanic and ancient American sculptures, or the shape of animal bones, Moore wanted his sculptures to address the subconscious of the viewer. They appear as living remains of a pre-human era to which any viewer can relate.
Stringed Figure was first conceived in 1938, as a Lignum Vitae wood carving. In 1968 Moore decided, as he often did with his earlier creations, to take a cast from his original work, and produce an edition of further version in metal. In this case he cast one in lead, and the rest of the edition of 8 in polished bronze. The Museum of Art Dallas holds one such version in their permeant collection.
Stringed Figure, 1938, Lignum vitae and string, height 14" (35.5 cm)
We see examples of Moore recreating earlier sculptures in multiple editions many times from the 1950’s onwards, especially from larger unique pieces made in the 1920’s and 30’s from wood or stone. This gave him an opportunity to experiment with already successful forms, but also with size and material. Nonetheless, it has also been suggested his decision to edition earlier works in multiples may have been driven by financial reasons. As Alice Correia states in her TATE article:
In the early 1940s Moore had found that the sale of his small bronze maquettes, such as Maquette for Madonna and Child 1943 (Tate N05600), could off-set the costs of casting much larger sculptures in bronze. In addition, demand for Moore’s work had increased significantly by the mid-1950s. By this time he was working with a number of different London-based commercial galleries including Roland Browse and Delbanco, Gimpel Fils, and the Leicester Galleries, all of which sold small, domestic scale sculptures by Moore to a growing number of collectors.
The use of string in this work is relatively rare in Moore’s oeuvre, and related closely to the work of Naum Garbo, and then Barbara Hepworth, with whom Moore was close friends in the 1920’s when they lived nearby in Hampstead (Hepworth and Moore were also at the Royal College of Art together). Indeed the three, together with Hepworth’s husband Ben Nicholson, regularly met to exchange ideas and discuss current developments in art.
Irina and Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth in 1931
Art historian Steven Nash has noted that ‘it is now impossible to establish a chronology of who did what exactly when’, but the exchanges between Moore, Hepworth and the Russian émigré artist Gabo in the late 1930s undoubtedly impacted on their individual use of strings. Critics widely disagree as to who out of the British artists first made the step. David Sylvester suggested in 1948 that in his stringed sculptures Moore’s focus was on space, volume and the interplay between masses and voids. However Moore himself was more specific, referencing visits to the Science Museum, in South Kensington as a young man, leading one to think it was perhaps him who first used strings in his work, rather than Hepworth:
Undoubtedly the source of my stringed figures was the Science Museum ... I was fascinated by the mathematical models I saw there, which had been made to illustrate the difference of the form that is half-way between a square and a circle. One model had a square stone end with twenty holes along each side making eighty holes in all. Through these holes strings were threaded and led to a circle with the same number of holes at the other end. A plane interposed through the middle shows the form that is halfway between a square and a circle. One end could also be twisted to produce forms that would be terribly difficult to draw on a flat surface. It wasn’t the scientific study of these models but the ability to look through the strings as with a bird cage and to see one form within another which excited me.
In conclusion Stringed Figure, 1938 is a rare and important work within Moore’s oeuvre: a figure the sculptor specifically chose to replicate in bronze. It is expressly the visually attractive polished effect that is sought-after in this sort of work from the period.