In 1977 Henry Moore donated his personal cast, no. 0/7, of Two Piece Reclining Figure: Points to the city of Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England. The work was sited in the broad, open space of Deer Park, on the larger grounds of Bretton County Park, formerly an estate. "Coming into view from a distance, the sculpture is initially perceived as two jagged rocks against the sky; the huge girth of forms was revealed after a twenty minute walk," Peter Murray has observed.
"The vastness of the surrounding space increased rather than diminished the volume of the sculpture, particularly when the work was explored from every angle. From the back the two forms seemed like large boulders imbued with a human presence, echoing the scale and lay-out of the panoramic landscape beyond. Lashed by wind and rain, the forms seemed to relish contact with the elements as validation of their organic roots... It was possible to understand the gigantic achievement of Moore and his acute understanding of scale" (Celebrating Moore, Berkeley, 1998, p. 295).
This enfolded and twisting reclining female figure is one in the long line of this quintessential subject in Moore’s oeuvre. The most dramatic aspect of this sculpture, of course, is that it has been cut into two pieces, separated on the base. 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 created Two-Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, measuring 76 inches (193 cm.) (Lund Humphries, no. 457). The success of this significant development soon suggested further possibilities–Moore subsequently created numerous other two-piece figures, and during the 1960s and 70s, three-piece and four-piece works as well.
“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,” Steven A. Nash has pointed out. “Moore would have seen examples in work by Arp, and...certainly was aware of Giacometti’s repeated and highly inventive use of the device” (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 be construed as a perversely wanton act of surrealist violence. However, in contrast to the transgressive psycho-sexual attitude that typically characterized surrealist imagery, especially that 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 quiescent 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., Henry Moore Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, pp. 287-288).
The figure and landscape contained corresponding formal elements; one could be understood in terms of the other. “All experience of space and the world starts from physical sensation," Moore explained. "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, London, 1988, p. 259).
The body forms in Moore’s multi-part reclining figures were occasionally inspired by landscape references in the art of earlier masters. "The leg end [of Two Piece Reclining Form No. 1]," Moore stated, "began to remind me as I was working on it of Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, which Kenneth Clark owned (Hauke, no.158; Tate Gallery, London). I had seen it on numerous occasions and have always admired it” (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, p. 153). He similarly shaped 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). "Sculpture is a mixture of the human figure and landscape," Moore wrote, "a metaphor of the relationship of humanity with the earth" (quoted in J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, My Ideas, Inspiration and Life as an Artist, London, 1986, p. 113).
In addition to drawing attention to the relationships between the body and landscape, Moore took advantage of the multi-part configuration to create a more enhanced and varied viewing experience. "Dividing the figure into two parts made many more three-dimensional variations than if it had just been a monolithic piece,” Moore wrote. “If it is in 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., 1981, 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 revealing "possibilities of tension and antithesis, statement and counter-statement, which simply could not be explored in a single form" (Henry Moore, London, 1973, p. 211). The sculptor 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 interaction of formal contours, and the juxtaposition of external and internal elements. “Sculpture is a like a journey,” Moore remarked. “You have a different view as you return,” (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., 1981, p. 157). Moore’s manipulation of space between the sections is no less calculated than the forms of the bronze components themselves. “This space is terribly important and is as much a form as the actual solid," Moore explained, "and should be looked upon as a piece of form or a shape just as much as the actual material” (quoted in ibid., p. 266).
"In the two-piece Reclining Figures Moore can afford to let our attention wander at will," Russell noted, "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 significance 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., 1973, pp. 202 and 205).
Few casts of Two Piece Reclining Figure: Points remain in private hands. Two bronze examples of the edition reside in German institutions: the Düsseldorf Hofgarten and the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Another bronze is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. and the 0/7 cast is presented at Kew Gardens, London, on loan from The Henry Moore Foundation. The original plaster model is in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
[A] Henry Moore, Four Piece Composition: Reclining Figure, 1934. Tate Gallery, London.
[B] Henry Moore, Two-Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, 1959; Chelsea School of Art, London Institute.
[C] Henry Moore, Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 1, 1961-1962. Tate Gallery, London.
[D] Henry Moore, Large Four Piece Reclining Figure, 1972-1973. Sold, Christie's, New York, 2 May 2006, lot 31.
[E] Henry Moore, Lincoln Center Reclining Figure, 1963-1965. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York.