Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Girl Seated against Square Wall

Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Girl Seated against Square Wall
bronze with dark brown and green patina
Height: 40 ¼ in. (102.3 cm.)
Width: 33 in. (83.8 cm.)
Depth: 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm.)
Conceived in 1957-1958 and cast by March 1961
Acquired from the artist by the late owners, circa 1960.
W. Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 9, nos. 186-187 (another cast and detail of another cast illustrated).
R. Melville, ed., Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 570 (another cast illustrated).
D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, London, 1981, p. 141, no. 289 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 94).
A. Bowness, ed., Henry Moore: Sculptures and Drawings 1955-64, London, 1986, vol. 3, p. 25, no. 425 (another cast illustrated, pls. 66 and 67).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Collects 20th Century, October-November 1963, p. 26 (illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note this work was cast by March 1961.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Between 1956 and 1960, Henry Moore created a series of eleven sculptures in which he positioned a human figure, sometimes two, or multiple figural elements, within an environment comprising the base, a block seat or bench to support his subject, and—most significantly—a wall-like backdrop. The present Seated Girl against Square Wall, completed during 1957-1958, is the largest of these sculptures, with the top edge of the wall measuring 40 inches (102 cm) in height.
In some of these sculptures the wall is open—that is, cut through—backlighting the figure, which results in a mandorla- or aureole-like effect, as if the subject were enthroned. In other works Moore formed the wall in a gentle concave curve to shelter the seated figure. He employed a rectangular wall as part of four sculptures in this group: the present Seated Girl, two in which abstract “motives” replaced human figures (Lund Humphries, nos. 441 and 442), and in the fourth, modeled in 1960, he presented a man and a woman in more identifiably human form (no. 454).
In Seated Girl against Square Wall, Moore imposed upon the figure of his subject—a young woman, more precisely, with fully adult features—a surrealist, virtually expressionist make-over as extreme as he ever conceived, in which he deliberately distorted the normal aspect of the female figure, which nonetheless remains recognizably naturalistic. Moore did not treat her in this way with any sort of analogy to the landscape in mind, the metaphorical method for which he is best-known. He instead sought to intensify the emotional qualities inherent in her posture, to suggest through the language of her body an inner state-of-mind, in which the presence of the wall and anything that it may signify are telling factors.
“The ‘Seated Girl in front of a rectangular Wall’ is a special case,” Will Grohmann wrote. “An astonishingly ‘deformed’ figure, with excessively long, thin legs, breasts displaced oddly upwards and an endlessly long neck topped by an elongated skull with eyes bored through it, she sits in front of a wall broken by horizontal and vertical setbacks that might be windows. This is a ghostly, surrealistic situation in which figure and wall are on a par with one another, as are the organic and the inert, the mobile and the rigid, the spiritual and its enemy. The architectonic space is open and at the same time enclosed; the seated figure is free and at the same time imprisoned; but it is more of a dream world, removed from time and space, neither tragic nor terrible. The composition exists in an undefinable dream world and cannot be compared to anything” (op. cit., 1960, pp. 231-232).
The idea for the figure-against-wall theme stemmed from the commission Moore received in 1955 for a large outdoor sculpture to be placed in front of the UNESCO headquarters building in Paris. Having considered various subjects that relate to the organization’s educational and cultural aims--a mother and child, figures on steps, a person reading—Moore proposed as his maquette an abstracted reclining woman, not in bronze, as had been requested, but in Roman Travertine marble. Installed in October 1957, the completed figure measured nearly seventeen feet long (508 cm); it is the largest sculpture he ever carved. The marble stone, cut from an old quarry in Querceta, Italy, that once supplied Michelangelo, weighed thirty-nine tons (Lund Humphries, no. 416).
Moore had chosen to work in brilliant white marble for the reason that bronze would appear too dark against the façade of the Y-shaped UNESCO building, getting lost in the glare from the large windows, which are arrayed in seven stories of uniformly repetitive balconied room units. While studying the problem of how to overcome this distracting fenestration, Moore began to consider more generally how figural sculpture might be integrated into modern architectural surroundings, just as he often envisioned and created his large figures to be placed outdoors in natural landscape settings. He had already worked on exterior walls; in 1952 he carved the stone screen for the exterior of the Time/Life Building in London (Lund Humphries, no. 344), and in 1955 he executed ten maquettes for the large wall relief constructed in brick for the Bouwcentrum, Rotterdam (nos. 365-375).
There is a sense of anxious foreboding that one may infer in Seated Girl against Square Wall, a presentiment of threat with one’s back to the wall, as it were, that recalls the scenes in Moore’s Shelter series, the studies that he drew while he and fellow Britons suffered under nightly German aerial bombardment during 1940-1942. Small rectangular slot-like apertures, not quite like either windows or vents, appear in drawings of ideas for sculpture during 1937-1938 (AG 37.47 and 38.38-43) and in figures set in otherwise enclosed, claustrophobic interiors done in 1942 (AG 42.208-210). Moore may have known the photograph that Henri Cartier-Bresson took in 1933 showing the vast cement face of a building in Madrid, only sparsely punctuated with tiny windows.
Nude, utterly exposed on a rudimentary bench in a bare and seemingly cold room, the Seated Girl against a Square Wall may be pondering, as in a painting by Edvard Munch, the anxieties of coming of age in a modern society. Or one may extend her sense of apprehension to encompass the wider socio-political situation in Europe at the height of the Cold War. Since the war he had taken a universalist, pacifist and humanist point-of-view on politics. Further such repressive events would soon transpire. In 1961 the Communist leaders of the German Democratic Republic erected a long wall around East Berlin where the city fronted the Western sectors under allied protection. Moore, sadly, did not live to see that wall torn down.
“Moore’s sculptures became one of the essential artistic expressions of human experience at a specific historical moment,” Chris Stephens has written. “Defined in relation to a period of global conflict and political upheaval, they are part of a wider challenge to reason, of the redefinition of the human body as discontinuous, fluid, and driven by deep unconscious forces, and a world characterized by apprehension and anxiety, the uncanny and the absurd. Moore’s is a troubled art that digs into the very essence of the modern experience” (Henry Moore, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2010, p. 17).
The acquisition of Seated Girl against a Square Wall began when the Pincuses honeymoon in 1960. They chose to visit Portugal and Italy, and while in Rome, staying the Hassler Villa Medici, they famously met and began a tong-term friendship with sculptor Henry Moore. Gerry had seen Moore, who was also staying at the hotel, and wrote a note to him saying her husband was a great admirer of his work and asked if they might meet. David was furious, but then surprised when the wrong rang and it was Henry Moore, inviting them to breakfast. Moore then invited the newlyweds to visit him in England, and they changed their honeymoon itinerary to journey to Much-Hadhan to visit the artist's studio, the first in what would be an annual pilgrimage. During this visit, the couple chose the powerful Girl Seated against Square Wall. In a letter dated 11 May 1961, illustrated here, Moore announced that the sculpture had been shipped. Seven years later, when David sought Moore’s advice on how to display their much-loved sculpture on the grounds of a new home, the sculptor thoughtfully replied, considering from a lifetime of experience in such matters all the many factors that would ensure the best outcome. Gerry loved the Moore sculpture they acquired on their honeymoon so much that she even created a base for it, mixing the cement in her backyard to ensure that the sculpture was perfectly cared for and secure. Such was David’s eagerness to undertake this project, that when it came time to prepare the base, as he later recalled, “I mixed the cement, I got the stones together and I built that darn thing. I said ‘that Henry Moore is going right here in front of our front door.’ So that’s where I built the base.”

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