Moore carved this Two Piece Reclining Figure: Armless from black granite, a material which, unlike the reflective surface of bronze, absorbs and diffuses the light that is cast on it, softening its forms, and lending it a darkly sensual aspect that seems to belie the very hardness of the material from which it is made. The sculptor once wrote, "In stone sculpture you have to alter the malleable softness of flesh and blood into something that is harder and less bendable" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore:Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 222). Here it may be said that Moore has performed this act of transubstantiation in reverse, having turned something that is hard and unbendable into a body that almost seems soft and malleable.
Carved in 1977, this nude woman comes near the end of a long line of reclining figures, the quintessential subject in Moore's oeuvre from the very outset of his career (see note to lot 10). The most dramatic aspect of this figure is, of course, that it has been cut into two pieces. Although Moore created multi-piece compositions in modest table-top dimensions during the 1930s, he did not divide the reclining female form in a large scale sculpture until 1959, when he made Two- Piece Reclining Figure No. 1 (Lund Humphries, no. 457; fig. 1), measuring 76 inches (193 cm.). This significant development suggested further possibilities--Moore subsequently created numerous other two-piece figures, and during the 1960s and 1970s, three-piece and four-piece works as well (Lund Humphries, no. 629; fig. 2).
By constricting the waist of Reclining Figure, 1934 (Lund Humphries, no. 141; fig. 3), so that the horizontal body becomes bulging forms at either end, Moore suggested that he might ultimately break the figure into two parts, and that each element would have a pronounced vertical emphasis. Moore did in fact create a series of multi-piece sculptures that year, including Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure (Lund Humphries, no. 154). Commentators have noted the surrealist influence on these works; Steven A. Nash has pointed out that "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. Moore would have seen examples in work by Arp, and certainly was aware of Giacometti's repeated and highly inventive use of the device" (in Henry Moore: Sculpting the 20th Century, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 2001, pp. 46-47). The act of cutting the figure into sections might initially appear as a perversely wanton act of surrealist violence. However, in contrast to the transgressive psycho-sexual attitudes that normally informed surrealist imagery, especially as seen in Giacometti's sculptures of this period, Moore's composite figures "are serene, psychologically neutral studies in formal balance and rhythmic variation" (ibid., p. 47).
Moore carried these abstract formal values, as well their essentially serene aspect, over into his later reclining figures. He viewed the sectioned figure in terms of his evolving conception of the human form as part of a larger natural order, and he conceived his large post-war multi-piece sculptures as existing in a symbiotic harmony with the open-air landscape. The sculptor wrote that Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, 1959, "is a mixture of rock form and mountains combined with the human figure I don't think it was a conscious or intentional thing for me to break up the figures in this way, but I suppose those earlier works, from the thirties had something to do with it... I did the first one in pieces almost without intending to. But after I had done it, then the second one became a conscious idea. I realized what an advantage a separated two-piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape. Knees and breasts are mountains. Once these two parts become separated, you don't expect a naturalistic figure; therefore you can justifiably make it like a landscape or rock" (quoted in A.Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., pp. 287-288).
The figure and landscape contained corresponding formal elements, and, as metaphor, one could be understood in the terms of the other. Moore explained, "All experience of space and world starts from physical sensation. 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, 1988, p. 259).
The body forms in Moore's multi-part reclining figures shapes were occasionally influenced by other landscape references from the art of earlier masters. Moore wrote, "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 (fig. 4), which Kenneth Clark owned. I had seen it on numerous occasions and have always admired it" (in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., 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 cliff forms in Monet's Le Manneporte (Étretat) (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Indeed, both allusions are pertinent to the present sculpture as well: the armless torso recalls the rocky thrust of Seurat's Le Bec du Hoc, and the each of the legs bent at the knee bring to mind the dramatic natural arch form at Etretat, as seen in Monet's paintings. Moore stated, "Sculpture is a mixture of the human figure and landscape, a metaphor of the relationship of humanity with the earth" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., p. 289).
In addition to drawing attention to the relationships between the body and landscape, Moore took advantage of the multi-part composition to create a more enhanced and varied viewing experience. He explained, "Dividing the figure into two parts made many more three-dimensional variations than if it had just been a monolithic piece," he wrote. "If it is 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" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., p. 157). The simple logic of this revelation inspired Moore to create sculptures of increasing complexity, both 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" (quoted in J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, New York, 1968, p. 504).
John Russell understood Moore's two-piece idea as a means of opening up "possibilities of tension and antithesis, statement and counter-statement, which simply could not be explored in a single form" (in Henry Moore, London, 1973, p. 211). Moore invited the viewer to move actively around his sectioned figures, and to look into 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" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., p. 157). Moore's manipulation of space between the sections is no less calculated than the forms of the bronze components themselves. Moore wrote, "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" (in ibid., 266).
Moore's choice of carved black granite as the material for Two-Piece Reclining Figure: Armless is absolutely essential to his idea of conception of this work; it was fortunate that as he neared his eightieth year he still possessed the stamina to work in stone, the material he had preferred in his earliest sculptures. He declared, "In those days I loved stone, as I still do now. I actually love stone. A piece of stone, any piece of stone in a landscape, a big rock, anything in stone, I just love more even than I love wood" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., p. 222). Moore pointed out that "Granite is one of the hardest stones, it would last for thousands of years in any climate. Very few other stones will stay out of doors as well as bronze" (quoted in ibid.). Indeed, rock embodies the very essence of the two-piece idea, as John Russell has noted:
"In the two-piece Reclining Figures Moore can afford to let our attention wander at will: what does not come in with one tide will come in with the next. The tidal image is not chosen at random. If these pieces have any one single secondary signficance, it is that of an eroded coast... If Walter Pater were to come back to earth and see one of these figures he would not say of it, as he said of the Mona Lisa, that she was 'older than the rocks among which she sits': he would say that she was those rocks. Rock and woman are one in these pieces..." (op. cit., pp. 202 and 205).
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Two-Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, 1959; Chelsea School of Art, London Institute. BARCODE 25995008
(fig. 2) Henry Moore, Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, 1972-1973. Sold, Christie's New York, 2 May 2006, lot 31. BARCODE 25994995
(fig. 3) Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1934. Private collection. BARCODE 25994865
(fig. 4) Georges Seurat, Le Bec du Hoc à Grandcamp, 1885. The Tate, London. BARCODE 25994964