Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more Property from an Important Swiss Collection
Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps

Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps
bronze with brown and green patina
Height: 26 in. (66 cm.); base: 28 1/2 x 26 3/8 in. (72.4 x 66.9 cm.)
Conceived in 1956 and cast in an edition of nine plus one artist’s proof
Private collection, St. Louis.
Acquired by the present owner in 1986.
The Smithsonian Institution, ed., Sculptures and Drawings by Henry Moore, Washington, D.C., 1966-1968, no. 13 (another cast illustrated).
I. Jianou, Henry Moore, Paris, 1968, no. 399, p. 81.
R. Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 516-17, p. 359 (illustrated).
A. Bowness, ed., Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture, vol. 3, 1955-1964, London, 1986, no. 427, p. 35 (another cast illustrated p. 34 & pl. 57).
D. Mitchinson, Celebrating Moore, London, 1998, no. 181, pp. 253-254, (plaster version illustrated p. 253).

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Antoine Lebouteiller
Antoine Lebouteiller

Lot Essay

Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps was conceived in 1956 and relates to one of Henry Moore's best-known monumental sculptures, which was created over the following two years. This was a critical period in Moore's career when he began to pursue innovations along new paths opened up to him thanks to his commission to create a monumental sculpture for the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. While Moore explored what subject to present in that sculpture, he created a number of studies and had a number of ideas, several of which themselves became immortalised as monumental sculptures, as is the case with the larger incarnation of the present work. The monumental Draped Seated Woman was cast in an edition of six, all of which are in public collections: Yale University, New Haven, the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and a cast which was sold by Moore to the London County Council in the early 1960s. A plaster example is owned by the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, while maquette versions are owned by Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Milwaukee Art Center.

Moore had already toyed with the idea of a figure seated on steps in sketches created as early as 1930, but as was often the case, the idea took decades to migrate from the medium of drawing to a sculptural incarnation. The concept appears to have emerged again around 1956, when Moore was originally given the task of creating a sculpture for the UNESCO building. Moore had been commissioned alongside artists including Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso; the committee driving the project included Georges Salles and Herbert Read, himself the author of an important monograph on Moore's work.

Moore was asked to create a sculpture to be placed outside the building, but aside from that was given little brief (originally he was asked to create a bronze, but the finished sculpture he provided was made of travertine, a pale stone intended to show against the dark architecture). He therefore set about selecting his subject matter as a crucial first step. It was in this context that Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps was made: it was at one of the stages of the development of the theme for the UNESCO commission that Moore considered this as a fit subject. Herbert Read, discussing this period in Moore's career, listed some of the concepts that the artist considered in the early stages of this commission: his 'first "idea" was a female figure reading a book, or teaching a group of children, or just "lost in contemplation", but the sculptural impact of such figures would be entirely obliterated by the background. He therefore tried out the possibility of placing the figures against a screen, which would be an integral part of the group. This was to prove a fertile invention for the future... Finally, after much deliberation, Moore decided to revert to his familiar stereotype, the Reclining Figure, but to make this so massive that it would "tell" against its background' (H. Read, Henry Moore: A Study of His Life and Work, London, 1965, pp. 216-17).

He then went on to explain that also 'arising from the preliminary work on this difficult commission are a large number of Seated Figures which were to be cast in bronze' (ibid., p. 218). Working Model for Draped Seated Woman: Figure on Steps, perched on its stair-like base, was therefore one of the works which evolved from the initial UNESCO commission, and like that finished sculpture - the more abstract, monumental travertine work - embodied for Moore some of the same qualities which were captured in the spirit of that organisation and its cultural mission, namely shared humanity.

That concept of shared humanity was one that Moore found in the figure of woman. The human figure, for him, was a fundamental signifier in that it invoked a frame of reference common to all people, and the woman all the more so, as it was from woman that all people were born. This was a unifying factor, and therefore one that promoted fraternity and fellowship among people, one of the key tenets of UNESCO and of his deeply humanising oeuvre alike.

Aside from the woman's engaging, turning gaze, which is made all the more dynamic by the directionality of her pose, Moore has deliberately removed any narrative elements from this work. This underscores the universality of the subject matter. He has left it as open as possible to interpretation and, crucially, recognition by his viewers. This is a timeless subject, and with the fecund mass of her body, can be seen as a relative of the Venus of Willendorf and other ancient or tribal images of fertility and maternity. At the same time, she is wearing drapery, which reveals the influence not so much of the Cycladic and other pre-Classical sculptures that had earlier made such a mark on Moore, but instead of such Greek works as the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. Indeed, Christa Lichtenstern has pointed to the seated figure often identified as Dione from the east pediment of the Parthenon as a possible parallel or even source for Moore: 'In both cases there is the same pulling away of the shins and accentuation of the knees, between which are stretched the hard ridges of the folds. Which other twentieth-century sculptor... has ever achieved such independent proximity to Phidias?' (C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work Theory Impact, trans. F. Elliott & M. Foster, London, 2008, p. 151).

In combining the sense of mass of earlier, more stylised sculptures with the attention to detail of the drapery and indeed of the life-like depictions of the arms and legs, Moore has struck a balance that fits with the ideas that appeared in his sketchbooks at the time of the UNESCO commission: 'Contrast primitive with Greek (late)/Contrast abstract & human/powerful & sweet...' (Moore, in his sketchbook, quoted in S. Compton, Henry Moore, exh. cat., London, 1988, p. 243). As he also said, 'The great (the continual, everlasting)/problem (for me) is to combine/sculptural form (POWER)/with human sensitivity & meaning/i.e. to try to keep Primitive Power with humanist content' (Moore, ibid., p. 243).

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