This sculpture is the intermediate sized model for Reclining Woman: Elbow, one of Moore's final monumental works, created when the artist was eighty-three years old. Roger Berthoud, the sculptor's biographer, has stated that "the imposingly sensual Reclining Woman: Elbow" was "arguably Moore's last significant new sculpture" (The Life of Henry Moore, New York, 1987, p. 402). The superlative beauty and power that Moore invested in this valedictory Reclining Woman sums up six decades of his unflagging skills at thematic variation and formal invention, and embodies his ultimate and consummate mastery of a subject which had engrossed him throughout his career. Moore selected Reclining Woman: Elbow for installation on the exterior entrance terrace to the Moore Sculpture Gallery, which adjoins the Leeds City Art Gallery. Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the new building in 1982 with the sculptor in attendance.
David Sylvester observed that most of Moore's reclining women were nudes, "but, though they lie with knees apart or thighs apart, their overall pose doesn't betoken the availability commonly implied in reclining female nudes" (in Henry Moore, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 5). Since the time of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the tradition of the reclining female figure in European painting has been inextricably tied to the Orientalist convention of the odalisque, the nude or partly clad but always desirable harem girl. Moore's conception of the reclining woman, even when nude, runs counter to this tradition. Moore stated, "I am not conscious of erotic elements in [my work], and I have never set out to create an erotic work of art... I have no objection to people interpreting my forms and sculptures erotically but I do not have any desire to rationalise the eroticism in my work, to think out consciously what Freudian or Jungian symbols may lie behind what I create" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 115).
Albert Elsen noted that Moore "always honors and never humiliates his feminine subjects. They are sensual but not flagrantly or even coyly erotic" (Modern European Sculpture 1918-1945, New York, 1978, p. 50). No other great artist of the 20th century was as sympathetic as Moore to the complex and multi-dimensional lives of women and respectful of their all-important roles in human society. Surely none other expressed--so powerfully, convincingly and sensitively--his awe and veneration of their miraculous life-giving and nurturing powers. The Reclining Women were Moore's life-long tribute to Woman as all women. Moore favored the "Rounded forms [that] convey an idea of fruitfulness," and in this light Will Grohmann called attention to the fact that his women express a universal significance:
"These reclining women are not the reclining women of a Maillol or a Matisse: they are women in repose but also something more profound the woman as the concept of fruitfulness, the Mother Earth. Moore, who once pointed to the maternal element in the 'Reclining Figures,' may well see in them an element of eternity, the 'Great Female,' who is both birth-giving nature and the wellspring of the unconscious To Henry Moore, the 'Reclining Figures' are no mere external objects, he identifies himself with them, as well as the earth and the whole realm of motherhood (The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 43).
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Reclining Woman: Elbow, 1981. Leeds City Art Gallery; photograph by Norman Taylor.