Reclining Figure: One Arm, 1938 •
Bronze, edition of 9
Conceived in 1938 and cast in 1968
Width: 33cm (13 inch) (including bronze base)
‘The popular conception of Moore as the master of the reclining figure is correct.’(Kenneth Clark, Henry Moore Drawings, Thames and Hudson, London 1974, p.193)For Henry Moore the reclining figure exerted an enduring allure, returning to the form throughout his long career, each one different to the last. Moore’s first depiction of the reclining figure, in 1929, was inspired by the reclining stone statue of Chac Mool the Mexican rain god. Moore soon realised that the reclining figure offered more opportunity to explore the relationships between weight and form than a standing or seated figure. The standing figure was weak at the ankles and a seated figure could not be separated from its base. It was the reclining figure that possessed a certain independence that could allow him to work through all his ideas. It was not the infinite variety of subjects that defined Moore as an artist but his ability to return to a familiar theme and make it new. In doing so, Moore renewed himself. During the 1930s, while Moore was aware of his continental counterparts, his sculpture resisted pure abstraction and remained stalwartly bound to the human figure. Moore exhibited at the International Surrealist Exhibitions in London 1936 and Paris 1938, and, as was the practice of the Surrealists of the period, moved away from life drawing and instead increasingly drew the figure from his imagination. The freedom this imbued, brought on a period of fervent creativity. It was Kenneth Clark, formerly director of the National Gallery, who described Henry Moore’s works on paper executed throughout 1938 as ‘the vintage year’. He goes on to comment that he supposes the first of these was Reclining Figures with Square Form Background. This drawing shows three different abstracted figures, resting in different positions. The figure situated in the upper right hand corner is the idea for this sculpture Reclining Figure: One Arm.Moore increasingly found that carving in stone and wood had its limitations, and he wanted to preserve the integrity of the material he utilised. Between 1938 and 1939 he created a group of reclining figures, which he cast in lead. Fourteen of them formed the backbone of his solo exhibition at The Leicester Galleries in February 1940. The forms were sculpted directly using beeswax he purchased from Boots. He then cast the figures in his garden, heating the lead in his wife Irina’s saucepans.Reclining Figure: One Arm was conceived during this seminal period though it was not cast in bronze until 1968. In Moore’s words: ‘It is free and stable at the same time. It fits with my belief that sculpture should be permanent, should last for eternity.’Moore has adhered almost exactly to the drawing; the sensual female figure and pierced oval form all correspond perfectly. Moore simply lifted her from the page and brought her to life in three dimensions. He added the form of the reverse side with a gently curved back hollowed out in line with the figure’s spine. The figure is caught in the transition of movement, not on her back or her side but dynamically propping herself up as if alerted to something. This sense of spontaneity lends the work a special energy. Relatively few sculptures came to fruition from his drawings during the late 1930s, Kenneth Clark suggesting that perhaps the drawings were comprehensive and finished enough in their own right. By the 1950s Moore’s reclining figures developed a certain angularity and anxiety reflecting the post war period. These in turn can be said to be more challenging than Moore’s later volumetric and lyrical reclining figures. It was the late 1930s that were truly Moore’s golden years, and by the end of this decade of constant experiment Moore was unarguably Britain’s greatest living sculptor, and the reclining figure was the very essence of his art.