Rare Henry Moore leads Christie’s 250th anniversary sale, Defining British Art

Commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the iconic sculpture realised £24,722,500 — one of eight works on the night to set a world auction record

Henry Moore’s ground-breaking 1951 modernist sculpture Reclining Figure: Festival led Christie's 250th anniversary auction Defining British Art on 30 June, selling for £24,722,500 — the highest price ever achieved for a work by the artist — in a sale which realised £99,479,500 / $133,203,051.

Described as 'one of the great masterpieces of Moore's œuvre' by Cyanna Chutkow, Christie's Deputy Chairman of Impressionist & Modern Art, the work, which wasprivately held in an American collection for almost a half century, was one of eight to establish a world auction record in a sale that celebrated four centuries of British art. 

Moore seems to have known from the outset that it would prove to be a landmark work in the history of his art

Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Reclining Figure: Festival served as a focal point of London's newly-built South Bank, coming, for many, to represent the resilience and inventiveness of the British people in the wake of the Second World War. 

The work was the artist's first, large reclining figure to be cast in bronze, and, in many ways, represented the pinnacle of the artist's exploration of the reclining human form from the 1920s, and his pioneering attempt to combine the body with a sense of both landscape and space. 

Moore himself claimed that Reclining Figure: Festival was the ‘first sculpture in which I succeeded in making form and space sculpturally inseparable’ and singled it out as one of the most important sculptures of his entire œuvre.

From its conception, the artist seemed aware that the work would prove to be a landmark in the history of his art and, in 1951, in conjunction with the filmmaker John Read, ensured that every stage of the genesis of the work was documented for what became the first of a series of ground-breaking documentary films by Read on the artist at work.

Created three years after Moore was awarded the International prize for sculpture at the 1948 Venice BiennaleReclining Figure: Festival was made from Moore’s plaster original, now in the Tate Gallery, London, and is one of an edition of five bronze casts and one artist’s proof.

The first bronze cast of the work that Moore made is the version that was displayed at the Festival of Britain in 1951, later acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris also owns one cast. Christie’s set a world record price for Moore when another cast from the edition was sold for £19,081,250 in London, February 2012.