Reclining Figure 1929 Analysis Essay

Having decided to proceed with the sculpture, Moore would then have created a plaster model at full size. Using the working model as a guide, an armature, probably made of wood and wire netting, was constructed, over which Moore and his assistants would have draped layers of scrim soaked in plaster. Scrim is a bandage-like fabric with a loose weave that allows plaster to soak into the layers easily. Once the plaster and scrim had hardened to form a shell, layers of thicker plaster could then be applied with trowels and spatulas until the sculpture started to gain mass and form. This work would have been carried out in the White Studio at Hoglands, or if the weather was fine, outside on the terrace. Moore would have allocated the bulk of this work to his studio assistants, who between 1957 and 1958 included Geoffrey Harris, Anthony Hatwell, Daryll Hill, Maurice Lowe and Stephen Rich.

After the final form had been arrived at Moore would have taken over and worked on the sculpture’s surface texture. Using an array of tools, including chisels, files and sandpaper, Moore could create different types of textures according to how wet or dry the plaster was. When asked by the critic David Sylvester in 1963 whether the surface textures of his sculptures were planned at the initial maquette stage, Moore replied:

No. No, the surface comes about from the way you do it. You can’t possibly imitate the surface on a six-inch maquette ... you foresee it a little bit, but you don’t foresee entirely because the doing of a thing always changes ... this business of surface and texture should be, in my opinion, the outcome of how you do a thing and what degree of refinement, of shape you want to get.3

In 1955 Moore discussed the ways in which he modelled drapery, explaining, ‘gradually I evolved a treatment that exploited the fluidity of plaster. The treatment of drapery in my stone carvings was a matter of large, simple creases and folds but the modelling technique enabled me to build up large forms with a host of small crinklings and rucklings of the fabric’.4 Cast directly from the plaster, the resulting bronze sculpture replicated these different surface textures accurately.

Once Moore was satisfied with the surface finish of the sculpture and was sure that he wanted to proceed with the casting process, the full-size plaster was sent to the Noack Foundry in West Berlin to be cast in bronze. Seven versions of Draped Reclining Woman exist, of which this is number two. The edition number and Moore’s signature can be found on the lower rear of the sculpture, as can the foundry stamp.

Technicians at the foundry would have cut the plaster sculpture into smaller pieces and then created moulds of each section from which the bronze parts could be cast. It is not known which technique was used to cast this sculpture, but the high level of surface detail on the bronze suggests that the lost wax method was used. Once all the pieces of the sculpture had been cast they were welded together and the casting seams ‘chased’ to render the joins as imperceptible as possible. The finished sculpture was then returned to Moore so that he could check the quality of casting and make decisions about the patina. A patina is the surface colour of a sculpture and is usually achieved by applying chemical solutions to the bronze surface, although colours also develop naturally over time on bronze sculptures displayed outside. However, Moore preferred to patinate his sculptures himself to draw out or highlight individual forms. In 1963 he explained to Sylvester that ‘one tries with any patina to help the form of a sculpture rather than to obscure it’.5 Tate’s cast of Draped Reclining Woman has a dark underlying patina, with a mottled green sheen over the top.

Origins and contexts

Moore carved his first reclining figure around 1924, but took up the subject with greater seriousness in 1929 and it became his most frequently recurring subject. In 1947 Moore accounted for his preference for the reclining figure, stating:

There are three fundamental poses of the human figure. One is standing, the other is seated, and the third is lying down ... of the three poses, the reclining figure gives most freedom compositionally and spatially. The seated figure has to have something to sit on. You can’t free it from its pedestal. A reclining figure can recline on any surface. It is free and stable at the same time. It fits in with my belief that sculpture should be permanent, should last for eternity. Also, it has repose, it suits me – if you know what I mean.6

By choosing the subject of the reclining female figure for his sculptures, Moore was free to experiment with sculptural forms, both compositionally (in the position of the body and its limbs) and spatially (in the ways in which the figure’s limbs projected into space and interacted with spatial gaps). In addition to these perceived virtues, Moore also believed that because the subject of the reclining figure was known and understood, he was not tied to creating naturalistic artworks. On the subject of his reclining figures Moore was clear that he did not seek to imbue his sculptures with a specific meaning, but rather to use the motif as a starting-point for formal experiments:

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.7

Moore’s preference for bulky, weighty bodies, exemplified by Draped Reclining Woman, may have originated from his admiration for the large, fleshy women painted by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906): ‘not young girls but that wide, broad, mature woman. Matronly’.8 These ‘broad, mature’ women may in turn have reminded Moore of what the curator Alan Wilkinson described as one of his ‘earliest and most important tactile sensations ... rubbing his mother’s back with liniment, to ease the pain of her rheumatism’ as a young boy.9 While there is no reason to believe that Moore was directly representing his mother in this sculpture, his particular feeling for the form of broad bodily expanses may have been drawn from his childhood experiences.

In his analysis of Moore’s work the psychologist Erich Neumann related the maternal aspects of Moore’s large women to those of the archetypal ‘Great Mother’.10 Identifying the centrality of this archetype to ancient civilisations, Neumann described the Great Mother as a symbol of ‘nourishment, shelter and security’, and ‘the mistress of life and fertility’.11 Indeed, Neumann posited that as a fundamental trope of human consciousness the archetype, once sublimated, would soon return to prominence:

the sovereign power of motherhood determined the earliest phase of man’s development, and only later, with the growth of consciousness, was it superseded and overlaid by the significance of the father and the patriarchal values connected with the father archetype. Today a new shift of values is beginning, and with the gradual decay of the patriarchal canon we can discern a new emergence of the matriarchal world in the consciousness of Western man.12

Discussing Draped Reclining Woman, Neumann observed that ‘despite the looseness of the body and its easy repose, the sturdy legs, flexed up and lightly splayed, with the heavy loop of skirt hanging between them, suggest a mature woman, fecund, maternal, earthy – a fine breeder with nothing in the least girlish about her’.13

Drapery played a very important part in the shelter drawings I made in 1940 and 1941 and what I began to learn then about its function as form gave me the intention, sometime or other, to use drapery in sculpture in a more realistic way than I had ever tried to use it in my carved sculpture. And my first visit to Greece in 1951 perhaps helped to strengthen this intention ... Drapery can emphasise the tension in figure, for where the form pushes outwards, such as on the shoulders, the thighs, the breasts etc., it can be pulled tight across the form (almost like a bandage), and by contrast with the crumpled slackness of the drapery which lies between the salient points, the pressure from inside is intensified.
Drapery can also, by its direction over the form, make more obvious the section, that is, show shape. It need not be just a decorative addition, but can serve to stress the sculptural idea of the figure.
Also in my mind was to connect the contrast of the size of folds, here small, fine, and delicate, in other places big and heavy, with the form of mountains, which are the crinkled skin of earth.14

Moore was evidently keen to downplay the notion that his use of drapery was decorative, instead proposing that it had a formative role in the presentation of the sculpture in three dimensions. Drapery could convey tension and repose and it could both disguise and emphasise the mass and volume of a sculpture. That Moore described the act of pulling it ‘across the form’ suggests that he identified the relationship between the figure and the drapery in terms of the contrast between stillness and motion. As the critic Ionel Jianou noted of Moore’s draped figures in 1968, ‘the drapery contributes to the quivering life of the sculpture’.15

Moore also recognised the importance of his first and only visit to Greece in 1951 as a stimulus for his draped women. Moore travelled there in February 1951 to attend the opening of an exhibition of his work at the Zappeion Gallery, Athens, organised by the British Council, but also took the opportunity to visit the country’s museums and ancient sites. While in Athens he visited the National Museum at least four times and the National Gallery once, as well as the various ancient structures clustered at the top of the Acropolis. In 1960 Moore recounted that:

there was a period when I tried to avoid looking at Greek sculpture of any kind. And Renaissance. When I thought that the Greek and Renaissance were the enemy, and that one had to throw all that over and start again from the beginning of primitive art. It’s only perhaps in the last ten or fifteen years that I began to know how wonderful the Elgin Marbles are.17

The drapery here is so sensitively carved that it gives the impression of light, flimsy material, wet with spray, being blown against the body by the wind. It shows how drapery can reveal the form more effectively than if the figure were nude because it can emphasise the prominent parts of the body, and falls slackly into the hollows. This is something I learned when I came to do the Shelter drawings, in which all the figures are draped. Before then I avoided using drapery because I wanted to be absolutely explicit about shapes and forms. I so admire the Greek sculptor who had the vision and the ability to make of stone something so apparently flimsy as the drapery on this figure.18

For the critic John Russell, however, Moore’s 1954 statement in fact ‘disposes altogether ... the idea that the draped statues owe anything substantial to Greek art’.19 Highlighting the artist’s reference to the ‘crinkled skin of earth’, Russell proposed that Moore was associating the drapery, and by analogy the female figure, with the landscape and thus developing an area of enquiry that he had already explored in detail, particularly in his pre-war reclining figures. Elaborating on these parallels, Russell claimed that Moore used drapery,

To romantic ends that would have been incomprehensible to the Greeks. The ‘crinkled skin of the earth’ was not something that they would have thought of as a metaphor for the folds of costume, but it was one of the quintessential metaphors for emotional states in the England of the 1940s and 1950s. Look at John Piper or Geoffrey Grigson on the derivations of British Romantic painting and you will find, over and over again, typographical references of this sort: drapery, for Moore, was another way, and a new one, of mediating between landscape and the human body.20

Initial display and reception

A cast of Draped Reclining Woman was exhibited as part of Moore’s solo display at Documenta 2 – a major international exhibition in Kassel, Germany, in the summer of 1959 – and would have undoubtedly brought it to the attention of more critics and collectors. Reviewing the show, the critic for the Times wrote that Moore’s ‘huge lying and seated draped women – not yet exhibited in England – introduce a quality of intense pathos and sensibility into the monumental which renders them both distant and appealing. They are in many ways the high point of this exhaustive and sometimes exhausting display’.21

According to the art historian Christopher Marshall, the success of Moore’s monumental women was due to the way they answered ‘a deep-seated postwar need for an epic, modern, civic art that might help rebuild a shattered Europe through the reinforcement of universal humanist values that reconnected the individual to the landscape, both urban and natural’.22 Indeed, a central tenet of Erich Neumann’s thesis was that Moore’s turn to the archetypal ‘Great Mother’ was not simply a matter of personal choice, but rather an exemplary manifestation of a more widespread tendency of the post-war era, which sought alternatives to the patriarchal ideologies that led to the devastation of the Second World War.23

In 1960 another cast of

Fig.1

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8

Tate T06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8

TateT06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

T06825

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 is a larger than life-size bronze sculpture of a reclining female figure whose bulky torso sits upright, facing forwards, while her legs extend horizontally to her left (fig.1). The figure is proportioned irregularly, possessing a small head relative to the size of her body and unnaturally long legs. Much of her weight is placed on her almost vertical right arm, her buttocks and her right thigh, all of which rest on the base, while her left arm rests gently on top of her left thigh. The woman wears a sleeveless, knee length dress, which appears to cling to her body, creating crinkles and ripples across her chest while deeper grooves and ridges traverse her legs and dip between her thighs.

Fig.2

Detail of face of Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8

Tate T06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of face of Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8

TateT06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

T06825

Fig.3

Detail of hair and neck of Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (rear view)

Tate T06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Detail of hair and neck of Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (rear view)

TateT06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

T06825


Two evenly spaced circular depressions on the figure’s face denote eyes, in between which a slight notch delineates the tip of her nose (fig.2). The figure has a high forehead and her hair has been rendered through a series of overlapping craggy masses at the rear of the head (fig.3). When seen from the rear it is evident that the woman has a very broad torso and large buttocks (fig.4). From this angle the shape of the right thigh can be seen beneath the fabric of the skirt, which has been pulled taught, indicating that the legs are slightly parted. Her bare knees, shins and feet are placed almost horizontally and there is a gap between her two calves. Her ankles have little definition and the inner edge of the left foot balances on top of the right (fig.5).

Fig.4

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (rear view)

Tate T06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (rear view)

TateT06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

T06825

Fig.5

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (side view)

Tate T06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Woman 1957–8 (side view)

TateT06825

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

T06825


From plaster to bronze

Fig.6

Henry Moore

Figures on Steps 1956

Private collection

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore

Figures on Steps 1956

Graphite, wax crayon, watercolour wash, felt-tipped pen, pen and ink on paper

Private collection

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

During the 1950s Moore began to change his working methods by slowing replacing preparatory sketches with small, three-dimensional models or maquettes as a means of developing his ideas for sculptures. Nonetheless, Moore’s catalogue raisionné of drawings contains numerous sketches of reclining figures made between 1955 and 1958, including Figures on Steps 1956 (fig.6), which features a sketch in the top left of the page of a woman reclining on a large plinth, much like the figure in Draped Reclining Woman.1

Fig.7

Henry Moore

Fragment Figure 1957

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Henry Moore

Fragment Figure 1957

Plaster

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

It is probable that Moore made the small plaster maquette for Draped Reclining Woman in his maquette studio in the grounds of his home, Hoglands, at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. Sometime after its completion in 1957 the maquette was damaged, and its head, arms and lower legs were lost (fig.7). According to the curator Alan Wilkinson, Moore ‘envisaged it as a fragment figure’, and cast the sculpture in its broken state as Fragment Figure 1957.2 Once he was satisfied with the design for a large sculpture Moore would scale-up the maquette to a working model of intermediary size. Although no working model for Draped Reclining Woman survives it is probable that Moore made a mid-size version so that he could test and adjust the design; at this stage in the developmental process the arrangement of limbs could be tweaked and features such as the folds of the drapery could be considered in more detail. Sculptures of a working-model size were also shown to potential clients, for they provided a better impression of what the large-scale version of the sculpture would look like.

Fig.8

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Figure 1952–3

The Henry Moore Foundation

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Jonty Wilde, Henry Moore Foundation Archive

Henry Moore

Draped Reclining Figure 1952–3

Bronze

The Henry Moore Foundation

© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Jonty Wilde, Henry Moore Foundation Archive

Draped Reclining Woman is closely related to Moore’s earlier Draped Reclining Figure 1952–3 (fig.8). Created as part of a commission for the Time-Life building on Bond Street, London, where it was positioned on the roof terrace, Draped Reclining Figure was the first sculpture in which Moore utilised rippled and ridged textures to denote drapery. Discussing this sculpture in 1954, Moore stated:

Fig.9

Henry Moore OM, CH

Woman Seated in the Underground 1941

Tate N05707

Henry Moore OM, CH1898–1986

Woman Seated in the Underground 1941

Gouache, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper

support: 483 x 381 mm

TateN05707

Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

N05707

In his statement Moore identified his earlier Shelter Drawings, which he made in his capacity as an Official War Artist during the Second World War, as having ignited his interest in the sculptural qualities of folded and draped fabric. One example, Woman Seated in the Underground 1941 (Tate N05707; fig.9), depicts a lone woman whose bodily mass is defined by the contours of her dress and the folds of a blanket on her knee. Moore appreciated that, as public works of art, his Shelter Drawings had to be accessible to a wide range of audiences. Consequently, figuration made a pronounced return to his work following his experiments with abstract and surrealist forms in the 1930s. He acknowledged that in the Shelter Drawings he was able ‘to mix the Mediterranean approach comfortably with my interest in the more elementary concept of archaic and primitive peoples’.16

Fig.10

Statue from the Nereid Monument, Xanthos c.390–380 BC

British Museum, London

© Trustees of the British Museum

Statue from the Nereid Monument, Xanthos c.390–380 BC

British Museum, London

© Trustees of the British Museum

Photographs of a Greek classical statue from the Nereid Monument (fig.10), dating from the fourth century BC, were reproduced in the 1981 publication Henry Moore at the British Museum. For this book Moore selected and discussed artworks from the British Museum’s collection that had influenced his work, and stated of the Greek sculpture:

Among a number of small and often strange ­humanoid sculptures ­sitting on low plinths in Tate Britain's Henry Moore exhibition, there is an object that made me laugh out loud. But it was a laugh tempered by ­uncertainty. A small slabby thing carved from warm Corsehill stone, the sculpture appears to represent a man lying in a bath, his arms at his sides, staring down at his own erection.

It's the sort of universal situation any man might recognise. The head, at one end of the slab, is like a grave-stone and pierced by a single hole. At the other end is a rounded bulge, from which protrudes an elongated wedge-like ridge, riding up his torso and terminating between two bumpy little breasts. Maybe it's not a man after all, nor a person in a bath, but some sort of woman. This is yet another of Moore's reclining figures, from 1933-4, but it could be a funerary slab from some ­ancient, even alien civilisation. What on earth was Moore thinking?

Another sculpture nearby, carved in the same stone, is most definitely female, this time upright – a rounded, almost jug-like form with two pert breasts. Woman as vessel, then. Yet the head, again pierced by a single hole, is almost penile. So, too, is the head of a third sculpture, a head-and-shoulders carved in African wonderstone, a glassy black volcanic rock, part of which is striated with faint concentric bands of colour, spreading like little seismic ripples. The entire sculpture seems to grow from these rings. It's a weighty thing that you want to touch and hold, to feel its mass, its sexy, bulging, androgynous smoothness.

These smaller sculptures, which Moore produced throughout his long career, repay all the attention you give them. The longer you look, the stranger they are. There are dismembered bodies, bowling-ball heads that want to eat smaller heads, holes that want to accept protruberences, body parts that morph into other body parts. One translucent alabaster sculpture describes a baby's head suckling at a breast – or does the breast suckle at the child? The whole thing has a sort of yearning, merging feel, and reminds me of the sculpted heads of Medardo Rosso, who died in 1928, two years ­before Moore carved this.

A lot of what Moore did has an almost feminine feel. This is not just because he made so many sculptures of mothers and infants, nor because (as he admitted) he had a bit of a mother fixation. It is as much in his play of insides and outsides, in the flow of forms and space. There is also something inescapably phallic about many of Moore's women, and in the male and female dualities even of his ­abstract forms. Moore never read Freud, though throughout the 1920s and 30s the discoveries of psychoanalysis were very much in the air.

Moore's smaller sculptures can be threatening, too. A number of little reclining figures from the end of the 1930s are made from lead, a material that attracted Moore because of its ­poisonous nature. The small bodies look as if they have been licked into shape. Light flows queasily over their smooth grey surfaces. It is as if they have been infected by Salvador Dalí and the bad android in Terminator 2. But what Moore appears to have been infected by, mostly, was Picasso – whose biographer, John Richardson, said that Moore was the "petit-maitre of Picasso's bone-surreal", a cruel but fitting jibe. Giacometti's surrealist work, as well as that of Jean Arp and other European artists have left their mark. Moore looked long and hard at a great deal of what inspired other artists of the period: African carvings; Mayan, Egyptian and early Iberian sculpture – art that was called "primitive". He ­buried himself in the British Museum and the Trocadero in Paris, knew ­Giacometti, and visited Picasso when the latter was painting Guernica.

Morbid and sexual undertones

So used are we to Henry Moore, we hardly give him the time his art ­deserves. This aim of this exhibition, which takes us from the 1920s up to the 1970s, is to show us his morbid and ­sexual undertones. The show avoids much of Moore's later work, when the artist went into production mode, making a form of sculpture that blinds us to his real achievements. All those public things on plinths, from Harlow New Town to Tokyo; all those British Council-sponsored exhibitions that ­forever circumnavigate the globe. Moore's bronze editions of ­interlocking, rounded forms with their hollows and holes and fussy, scaly surfaces have ­become so much street furniture.

The impression I grew up with was of a domesticated modernist, already old hat, so ubiquitous one almost didn't need to look. He was just there. It is the artist's smaller, more private works I like the best, the ones that don't appease airy humanist ­sentiment. The exhibition's curator, Chris Stephens, also hopes to present a Moore whose preoccupation was the human body as, in Stephens's words, "abject, erotic, vulnerable, violated and visceral . . . absurd, uncanny and claustrophobic". Ooh-err, what's come over our Henry, king of the sucked-toffee blob in the town square? The mother-and-child-friendly sculptor?

What Stephens really wants to do is give us a Moore for our time. A Moore who might hang out with Georges Bataille and the dissident ­surrealist crowd, a Moore to set ­beside Giacometti and Hans Bellmer, or even Louise Bourgeois, Paul ­McCarthy, Bruce Nauman and Thomas Schütte. It's true that Nauman has nodded to Moore in a couple of works, while Schütte's reclining steel women owe some of their deformations to Moore. What began as jokes at Moore's ­expense in the sausage ­sculptures of Fischli and Weiss, and in the ­performances of Bruce McLean, has ended as a kind of homage.

Sympathy for elms

There is a falling off in Moore's post-second world war work, although the reclining figure he made for the 1951 Festival of Britain remains a ­peculiar, startling and troubling thing. It is not a million miles from Francis ­Bacon's 1944 Studies at the Base of a ­Crucifixion – if one could imagine those figures spending a day at the beach. But it is in the last room – just when the show, and Moore's art, seems to flag – that things really come alive again. Four great elm carvings ­dominate the space, filling the air with their lovely reflected light. Each, again, is a reclining figure. The first is dated 1936, the last 1976-8. In this room, their scale seems just right. There is a sense of massive slumber and waiting.

But what really strikes me is Moore's craftsmanship, his understanding and sympathy towards the great hunks of elm, the way he followed the grain and density of the wood when he hollowed space and revealed form. He let the material do the talking, and respected its nature. People don't talk much of "truth to materials" nowadays. I don't really go in for all the mythic ­qualities these recumbent figures might have, but they do have real presence. All the smoothing and rounding and ­hollowing of the forms, even their facelessness, has a point. There is a sense of great gravity and rest. The sculptures slow time down to a full stop, and us with it.

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