The large 90 inch long Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951 (LH293), for which this bronze is the working model, was commissioned by the Arts Council for the 1951 Festival of Britain. In 1968 Moore included the large bronze in his list of the reclining figures which mattered most:
'Certain of my works are more important to me than others, and I tend to look on them as keys to a particular period. Ones I can quickly pick out [strangely he omitted the 1929 Leeds Reclining Figure and the 1930 Ottawa Reclining Woman] are the 1938 Reclining [Recumbent] Figure in Hornton stone, in the Tate Gallery; the large elmwood 1939 Reclining Figure, now in the Detroit Museum [Institute of Arts]; the 1951 Festival Reclining Figure ... and my first large bronze two-piece Reclining Figure '.1
Reclining Figure: Festival, in keeping with Moore's working method of the previous three decades, was based on a preliminary drawing, the 1950 Study for Festival Reclining Figure (AG50-51.70) (fig. 1). Small Maquette No.1 for Reclining Figure, 1950 (LH292a) with the single breast protruding downwards from where the left arm meets the neck, was based on the sketch at right, second from the bottom of the sheet. It was from this maquette that the working model and large bronze were enlarged. Small Maquette No.2 for Reclining Figure also of 1950 (LH292b), without the breast form, evolved from the sketch at lower right of the sheet. In the two drawings on which the two maquettes were based, the heads are tilted back, as is the head of the second maquette. But in the definitive Small Maquette No.1 for Reclining Figure, the head is upright, a feature found, with few exceptions, in Moore's sculptures of seated and reclining figures and in those poised, majestic life drawings of Irina Moore of 1929-34. Even though in each of three versions (in terms of size) of the Reclining Figure: Festival, the head is disproportionately small, 'It gives,' as Moore commented on the importance of the head in his work, 'to the rest a scale, it gives to the rest a certain human poise, and meaning, and it's because I think that the head is so important that often I reduce it in size to make the rest more monumental'.2
There are three reasons why Reclining Figure: Festival represents an important watershed in Moore's career; two of them have to do with his working method, the other is stylistic. In terms of the creative process itself, the four bronze versions of this work all but bring to a close Moore's reliance on drawing as a means of generating ideas for sculpture. Henry told me that as his work became less representational and began to have 'an organic completeness from every point of view,' he found that working from a sketch showing a sculptural idea from a fixed and single view was contrary to his aims. It is true that in the late 1930s Moore had begun to make maquettes upon which the larger carvings were based, such as the lead Recumbent Figure of 1938, the sketch model for the Tate's Hornton stone sculpture of the same title. The Festival of Britain commission, however, may be the first instance of a sculpture developing from a maquette, to working model, to the large scale work. But the most profound change was, as Moore explained, a stylistic one. Form and space no longer compete; they are equal partners:
'The Festival Reclining Figure is perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other. I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional. In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and the form are so naturally fused they are one'.3
Neither of the two maquettes nor the working model have the delicate, string-like lines which enliven and relieve the monotony of the smooth surfaces of the bronze casts of the large version of the Festival reclining figure, and accentuate the form. Moore told me that with the original plaster of the 90 inch sculpture, 'I was dissatisfied with the shape being shown as clearly as I wanted and so I used this drawing not trick, but method idea [his invention of what he called the two-way sectional line, drawing across and around the form, as in Family Group, 1951, lot 65 in this sale] on the sculpture and the strings had to be thin enough not to disrupt or confuse the surface'.4 As always, Moore was experimenting with innovative ways to emphasise, to make more tangible, the three-dimensionality of his sculpture.
C. Alan Wilkinson 2008
1 Quoted in J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, London, 1968, p. 197.
2 See H. Bennett (ed.), Face to Face, Interviews with John Freeman, London, 1964, p. 32.
3 Quoted in J. Hedgecoe, op. cit. , p. 188.
4 Quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, pp. 276-77.