In 1949 Henry Moore was invited by the Arts Council to create a sculpture for the 1951 Festival of Britain, a major event being held to showcase Britain's cultural and technological resurgence in the wake of the Second World War. Small Maquette No. 2 for Reclining Figure was conceived by Moore in 1950 in preparation for the landmark Reclining Figure: Festival that he ultimately executed for this important commission. Moore deemed Reclining Figure: Festival to be one of the most significant sculptures he had ever created. As he explained, this figure represented a watershed, being 'perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other' (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, exh. cat., Ontario, p. 136).
In many ways, Reclining Figure: Festival and the present maquette are key to this period of Moore's work. In order to generate the greater fusion of form and space that he sought, he employed a working method that was to henceforth shape his whole approach to sculpture. Whilst Moore used sketches to generate the initial idea for Reclining Figure: Festival, the maquette served as the basis for an intermediate 'working model' size from which the larger sculpture evolved. This became his modus operandi and from the mid-1950s onwards, when Moore was striving for an ever-greater three-dimensionality, maquettes largely replaced his use of drawings in the initial conception of the work:
Now that I work with a maquette, I can turn it over, hold it, look at it from underneath, from above, and the smaller it is in a way the more do you do this turning ... I think now that in working with maquettes, my sculpture is more truly dimensional (Moore, quoted in E. Steingräber, Henry Moore Maquettes, Munich, 1978 p. 55).
Small Maquette No. 2 for Reclining Figure is one of just two small maquettes made by Moore for Reclining Figure: Festival. Both of these were based upon one sheet of preparatory drawings, though they are each unique - evolving from different sketches and differing from one another in their final form.