Henry Moore's reputation as the pre-eminent modern sculptor is grounded in the essential humanity of his works, regardless of their scale. His evolution as a modernist followed familiar pathways of experimentation: he first found inspiration in the antique, then allied himself with Surrealism, and then embraced "pure" abstraction. Like other artists before and after him, however, he found abstraction to have its limitations; and he returned in his later work to the human form in various prototypical circumstances, one of which is a nude woman, reclining.
[Moore] once said that there are three fundamental poses of the
human figure, standing, seated and lying down; that the reclining
pose gives the most freedom, compositionally and spatially; that it is free and stable at the same time; that it has repose: "Knees
and breasts are mountains.... As you move round it, the two parts
overlap or they open up and there is space between. Sculpture is
like a journey. You have a different view as you return." (R.
Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings, 1921-1969, New
York, 1971, p. 261)
Reclining Figure: Angles is imbued with the awe-inspiring presence of an earth mother. Massive yet weightless, it seems curiously comforting. Although it was cast in 1979, we may legitimately claim that it was conceived almost fifty years earlier; inspired by a photograph of an ancient Mexican "Chac Mool" representing a Mayan rain god, Moore made his first reclining figures in 1929 and 1930. The aesthetic forebear of Reclining Figure: Angles is without doubt Reclining Woman, carved in green Hornton stone in 1930 and now in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Featured strongly are the same jutting breasts, peaked knees and sharply averted head. While the early piece appears to be rising, however, fists clenched, the face anxious or alarmed, Reclining Figure: Angles reposes with great calm. The backward gaze of the figure is an homage to the past, while the smooth, easy bearing of the torso and the vast, mountainous legs underscore what Roger Fry, the critic whom Moore most admired, said:
...the greatest art seems to concern itself most with the universal aspects of natural form, to be the least pre-occupied with
particulars. (R. Fry, "Retrospect," Vision and Design, where?, p. 195)