Between 1952 and 1954 Moore executed four reclining figures which he numbered from 1 to 4. The group consists of two sets, in which a small figure was followed by a substantially larger one. The first sculpture, a smallish work, is clearly female, and has a twisted and concave body (Lund Humphries, no. 327). The second, much larger figure is gaunt and gnarled, and displays few if any feminine characteristics; it is the most extreme representation of the figure in this series (LH, no. 329). The third, once again in small size (LH, no. 330), may be likened to a draped version of the first. The fourth and final sculpture in this sequence, offered here, suggests an entirely different formal and emotional context. It is far more naturalistic than any of the previous three figures, and it manifests the fuller draped forms and classical appearance that reveals the influence of Moore's study of the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, and the impact on his work of his first trip to Greece in 1951 (see lot 26).
The large majority--as many as two-thirds--of Henry Moore's sculptures are reclining figures. With only two important exceptions, both of which are fallen warriors, these reclining figures are female. Moore declared "Right from the beginning I have been more interested in the female form than the male... The reclining female figure is a continually recurring theme in my work" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, Henry Moore Sculpture, with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, pp. 52 and 147). He explained, "The reclining figure gives the most freedom... 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" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 218).
Will Grohmann believed that Moore's reclining female figures embodied "woman as the concept of fruitfulness, the Mother Earth... the 'Great Female', who is both birth-giving nature and the wellspring of the unconscious... Neither Christian nor pagan, these figures are neutral forms in which nature and spirit meet in accordance with their own laws" (in The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, pp. 43 and 44). The woman who is Reclining Figure No. 4 awakens and slowly raises herself to acknowledge the world around her, and in turn to infuse her regenerative spirit into these surroundings. The reclining woman, especially in its draped form, evokes the antique world of nature deities and nymphs, who represented idealized aspects of natural world for the classical imagination. Aristide Maillol created his reclining women in these allegorical roles. Moore also alludes to this tradition, but in contrast to Maillol's earthy yet idealized figures, Moore's women seem to have been hewn from the rough matter of the landscape itself; the body displays the very shape and substance of natural forms. David Sylvester has written:
"Moore's figures, of course, represent nothing but themselves, but are made to look as if they themselves had been shaped by nature's energy. They seem to be weathered, eroded, tunnelled-into by the action of wind and water. The first time Moore published his thoughts on art, he wrote that the sculpture which moved him most gave out 'something of the energy and power of great mountains'... Especially in sculpture, a figure which is to be the equivalent of a landscape is apt to have a horizontal pose. But the primary intention is 'energy and power': Moore's reclining figures are not supine; they prop themselves up, are potentially activethe idea is not simply that of a body but of one in which those forces are harnessed" (in Henry Moore, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 5).