"From the very beginning," Moore reflected in 1968, "the reclining figure has been my main theme. The first one I made was around 1924, and probably more than half of my sculptures since then have been reclining figures" (in A.G. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Los Angeles, 2002, p. 212). Moore enumerated the three basic poses of the human figure--standing, sitting and lying down--but in the vast majority of his works a female figure is seen sitting or reclining, a preference that initially stemmed from his desire to work in stone, for the practical reason that a standing figure in carved stone is structurally weak at the ankles. "But with either a seated or reclining figure one doesn't have this worry. And between them are enough variations to occupy any sculptor for a lifetime." He noted, moreover, that "of the three poses the reclining figure gives the most freedom, compositionally and spatially. The seated figure has to have something to sit on. You can't free it from its pedestal. 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 an eternity" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., p. 86).
Beginning in 1952, Moore conceived various series of bronze reclining figures in progressively more unstable asymmetrical positions. Where at first all four limbs were evenly grounded, each new incarnation dramatized the tension manifest by shifting weight to one elbow or the edge of a foot or leg. In the present work, Moore continues in the expressionist fashion of earlier reclining figures by eviscerating the figure, hollowing away its torso to a point of near anatomical impossibility; as in its naked predecessor, Reclining Figure No. 2 (fig. 1), the cavities within the volumes take on a new importance, the broken angle of the right elbow and the diagonal axis of the legs creating a torquing opposition between the two halves of the body. This determined asymmetry, difficult to sustain in a seemingly static pose, gives an organic energy and dynamism to the figure, which seems less supine than alertly propped up, ready to spring into action. But whereas in Reclining Figure No. 2, the severe angularity and apparent awkwardness of the pose combine to evince anxiety, recalling the existential concerns of Moore's sculpture immediately after World War II, the graceful balance and curving contours of the present work suggest a lightness and effortlessness uncommon to Moore's oeuvre.
The enduring appeal of the reclining figure lay in the vicissitudes of the human body, Moore explained, which opened up an infinite space for re-invention: "The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows [him] to try out all kinds of formal ideas. . . . In my case the reclining figure provides chances of that sort. The subject-matter is given, so that within it, within the subject that you've done a dozen times before, you are free to invent a completely new form--idea" (in op. cit., p. 212). In Draped Reclining Figure, Moore uses the reclining figure as a vehicle to address several of his paramount themes. The sweeping proportions of the figure, which echo the ridges and cliffs of the natural world, create an implicit symbiosis between the landscape of the body and that of the earth, suggesting the imagery of "Mother Earth" evident in other works. Likewise, the attention to drapery and the posture of the figure anticipates the following period where Moore's production would focus on seated women, often draped women, in architectural settings.
As one of the final reclining figures conceived by Moore in this period at a smaller scale before moving on to more literal, more monumental, and ultimately partitioned, figures, Draped Reclining Figure presents a momentary resolution to Moore's engagement with the singular reclining figure. As the artist has observed of his relationship with sculpture, "it has repose. And it suits me--if you know what I mean" (quoted in P. James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, London, 1966, p. 264), the same could be observed of his satisfaction with the present work. Draped Reclining Figure presents the reclining figure at its most refined, with the attributes of past anguish--a hollowed face, precarious pose, twisted limbs--subtly recast as the beautiful characteristics of a poised and elegant figure.
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Reclining Figure No. 2, 1952. Sold, Christie's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, New York, 6 November 2007, lot 3.