The reclining figure was the quintessential theme in Moore’s oeuvre from the late 1920s to the very end of his career. The sculptor was drawn to the stability and repose of this subject, as well as the potential for seemingly limitless formal variation. Although he created multi-piece compositions in modest table-top dimensions before the Second World War, he neither divided nor sectioned the reclining female form in a large sculpture until 1959, when he created Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 1 (Lund Humphries, no. 457), which measures 76 in. (193 cm.).
This significant development suggested further possibilities, and Moore subsequently composed other two-piece figures, and during the 1960s, three-piece sculptures as well. The present Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, a full eight feet long (208 cm.), is the culmination of this process. It is Moore’s only titled recumbent female figure that consists of four component forms. Each piece projects its own distinctively characterized shape, and interacts compositely with the others to constitute one of Moore’s most dramatically conceived, imposing, and enigmatic later sculptures.
The earliest multi-piece antecedents for the present sculpture date from the 1934—Composition and Four Piece Composition: Reclining Figure (Lund Humphries, nos. 140 and 154). The influence of Surrealism is apparent in the freely associative aspect of these varied forms. “The idea of spreading a sculptural composition across a flat base, so antithetical to the ancient tradition of the vertical statue, was very much in the air at the time,” Stephen Nash has pointed out. “Moore would have seen examples in work by Arp, and certainly was aware of Giacometti’s repeated and highly inventive use of the device” (Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 2001, pp. 46-47). In contrast, however, to the transgressive, psycho-sexual attitudes that normally informed surrealist imagery, especially in Giacometti’s sculptures of that period, Moore’s composite figures “are serene, psychologically neutral studies in formal balance and rhythmic variation” (ibid., p. 47).
Moore believed that these abstract formal values were essential to his conception of the human form and spirit as an integral aspect of a larger natural order. He envisioned his large post-war sculptures as existing in a symbiotic harmony with the open-air landscape. Indeed, he often imagined the figurative elements in his sculptures in terms of natural features. “All experience of space and world starts from physical sensation,” Moore told Gert Schiff. “This also explains the deformation of my figures. They are not at all distortions of the body’s shape. I think, rather, that in the image of the human body one can also express something nonhuman—landscape, for instance—in exactly the same way as we live over again mountains and valleys in our bodily sensations. Or think of the basic poetic element in metaphor: there too we express one thing in the image of another. It seems to me that I can say more about the world as a whole by means of such poetic interpenetrations than I could with the human figure alone” (quoted in S. Compton, Henry Moore, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1988, p. 259).
The sculptor described his pivotal Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, 1959, as “a mixture of rock form and mountains combined with the human figure... I realized what an advantage a separated two-piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape. Once these two parts become separated, you don’t expect a naturalistic figure; therefore you can justifiably make it like a landscape or rock” (D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., 1981, pp. 153 and 157).
Adding a middle, third piece to the dual-sectioned figure—utilizing a shape suggested by an animal vertebrae he found in his garden—Moore executed Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 1 in 1961-1962 (Lund Humphries, no. 500). The analogy between body and landscape forms is even more clearly apparent in these craggy shapes. Finally, a decade later, Moore created the present Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, and during the following year he completed his only other monumental four-piece composition, Hill Arches (Lund Humphries, no. 636), which is based on landscape contours, but suggests body limbs as well.
Although Moore’s sectional figures became increasingly impressive in scale, and more complex in the interaction of their component elements, the sources of these forms were often small stones, flints, and animal bones that he collected on his walks. Such objects reflected, in microcosm, elements of the greater landscape in which they existed. As in the verse of the visionary English poet William Blake, Moore sought “To see a World in a Grain of Sand.../ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour” (Auguries of Innocence, 1803).
In addition to drawing inspiration for the body forms in the multi-part reclining figures by observing the natural environment, Moore occasionally referred to landscape features seen in the art of earlier masters. “The leg end [of Two Piece Reclining Form No. 1] began to remind me as I was working on it of Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, which Kenneth Clark owned. I had seen it on numerous occasions and have always admired it” (D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., 1981, p. 153). He likewise described the arching leg end of Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 2, 1960 (Lund Humphries, no. 458) in terms of the headland cliff forms in Monet’s La Manneporte (Étretat) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Much of Moore’s interest in the multi-piece reclining figure stemmed from the potential he anticipated in this approach of creating an enhanced and more varied viewing experience. “Dividing the figure into two parts made many more three-dimensional variations than if it had just been a monolithic piece,” he explained. “If it is in two pieces, there’s a bigger surprise, you have more unexpected views... The front view doesn’t enable one to foresee the back view. As you move around it, the two parts overlap or they open up and there’s space between” (ibid., p. 157). The simple logic of this revelation inspired Moore to create sculptures of increasing complexity in their totality and in their parts. “I obtain many permutations and combinations. By adding two pieces together the differences are not simply doubled. As in mathematics, they are geometrically multiplied, producing an infinite variety of viewpoints” (J. Hedgecoe, ed., Henry Moore, New York, 1968, p. 504).
Employing these inducements, Moore invited the viewer to move actively around his sectional figures, in the case of Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, to look into and through them, to contemplate the subtle relationships between mass and space, the positioning of volumes, the contrasts between surface contours, and the juxtaposition of external and internal aspects. “Sculpture is a like a journey,” Moore remarked. “You have a different view as you return” (D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., 1981, p. 157).
The four-piece composition must have appeared to Moore as the practical and visually viable limit to a multi-part sectional approach to the figure on a large scale. In contrast to the small four-piece figures of 1934, in which the elements were laid out across the table-top base, it was imperative in the later monumental works that Moore enforce a cohesive interaction between the multiple forms that would ensure the unity and harmony of the whole.
The sculptor achieved this end in Large Four Piece Reclining Figure by arranging the four sections in two groups which interface with each other, in point-counterpoint opposition. On one side, a pair of vertebrae-like shapes comprises the head and upper body, while on the other, two conjoined arch forms serve as legs. The downward curve of the upper component in the latter recalls Monet’s Manneporte at Étretat. Moore employed curvilinear forms in all of the sections, creating a twisting, all-embracing, connective arabesque, the outline of which suggests the form of a lemniscate (8) –the symbol of infinity. The sculptor’s manipulation of space between these elements was as calculated for effect as the size and shape of the sections themselves. In his multi-piece sculptures, Moore explained, “this space is terribly important and is as much a form as the actual solid, and should be looked upon as a piece of form or a shape just as much as the actual material” (ibid., p. 266).
The present sculpture is number 7 in the edition of seven bronzes cast by H. Noack, Berlin, plus one cast numbered 0 in the possession of the Henry Moore Foundation. Other casts are presently located at The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; The Yamanashi Prefecture Museum of Art, Kofu; The Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco; and in private collections.