During the 1950s Moore received commissions for large sculptures to be placed in architectural settings, resulting in important projects such as Draped Reclining Figure for the Time-Life Building in London in 1952 and Reclining Figure for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris in 1957. While working on the latter between 1955 and its completion in 1957, the importance of the commission meant that he claimed 'I have given up all my other work'. Thus, many works from the period have their origins in this project, including the present sculpture, although in these related sculptures of seated or reclining, draped or undraped women, he conceived several that 'might work out as sculpture purely for myself' (quoted in R. Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, London, 1987, p. 263; c.f. HMF418-440).
In these investigations, the seated figure represented change from the standing and reclining figures that he had previously executed and were a sculptural challenge, in that they depended on the conception of an appropriate support. This challenge of relating the figure to its built surroundings continued to fascinate the artist and during this period he produced about a dozen maquettes in which the composition consists of the figure against an architectural backdrop, including the present work.
Having experimented with seating his figures on benches, blocks, and rigidly angular staircases in order to find a way to place a sculpture against a building, in Seated Figure on Circular Steps, the curved steps with their horizontal linear design project a mood of intimacy and protection, while allowing for the figure to be seen from all angles. Unlike the more abstract figures in other variations on this theme, the figure in the present sculpture possesses the fullness of Moore's naturalistic female forms.