In 1949, Moore was invited by the Arts Council to create a sculpture for the 1951 Festival of Britain, a major event being held to showcase the country's cultural and technological resurgence in the wake of the Second World War. He conceived Small Maquette No. 2 for Reclining Figure 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. I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional. In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and form are so naturally fused they are one” (quoted in J. Hedgecoe, Henry Spencer Moore, New York, 1968, p. 188). This unprecedented unity between solid and void meant that the empty spaces flowing through the sculpture now assumed as much importance as the solid form itself.
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. 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” (quoted in E. Steingräber, Henry Moore Maquettes, Munich, 1978 p. 55).
It was this new heightened concern with three-dimensionality and the fusion of space and form which separated the final version of Small Maquette No. 2, Reclining Figure: Festival from Moore's earlier recumbent figures. Commentators, both at the time it was first exhibited and today, have interpreted Reclining Figure: Festival in different ways. For some, its haunting skeletal form embodies a sense of anxiety, created as it was, in the wake of the war. For others though, it is a celebration of humanity's survival, the sculpture's form and distinguished lines denoting strength. These various interpretations are themselves reflective of Moore's later comment that “sculpture should always at first sight have some obscurities, and further meanings. People should want to go on looking and thinking; it should never tell all about itself immediately...In my sculpture explanations often come afterwards” (quoted in A. Bowness, ed., Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture, 1964-1973, London, 1977, vol. 4, p. 17).
(fig.1) Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951. Sold, Christie’s, London, 7 February 2012, lot 23.