‘The two words Bridge and Prop came about because if one looks at the sculpture, with its base at eye level, then it makes a series of arches, or bridges (it reminded me while doing it of the views underneath Waterloo Bridge from the Embankment, which I often pass when taking a taxi from Liverpool Street Station to the West End).’
(Moore, quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore, Sculpture, London & Basingstoke, 1981, p. 165).
Conceived in 1963, the monumental Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) is an example of Henry Moore’s unique ability at balancing figuration and abstraction in a sculptural, three-dimensional form. The reclining figure is one of the central themes of Moore’s work, a continual site of experimentation and exploration. Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) is the second in a series of works began in the early 1960s, in which Moore took the horizontal form of the reclining figure and split it into three distinct pieces. Epitomising Moore’s fascination with the spatial, formal relationship between objects, Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) illustrates how the sculptor used the human figure to present varied and abstract artistic concerns. Cast in an edition of six, it is one of only two still in private hands. Four of these casts are housed in major museums and collections across the world: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; Tate Gallery, London and City Art Gallery, Leeds.
Set within the landscape, the three variously shaped pieces of Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) act as the head, torso and limbs of a human figure. The softly curving, organic appearance of the bronze sections was originally inspired by a piece of vertebra that Moore found in his garden. Moore had always delighted in the found objects and detritus of the natural world; he was an avid collector of fossils, bones, shells, driftwood and pebbles and used these biological and geological forms as the basis for his sculpture. The monumentality of the sculpture is boldly contrasted with the delicate, graceful way that the forms interlink and flow into one another. The vertical, ‘head end’ rests gently on the central, lower form. The curve of this central piece is continued in the upward curve of the third piece of the sculpture, though these two pieces are not touching. A perfect equilibrium has been reached between solidity and weightlessness, the empty spaces becoming as much a component of the sculpture as the fragmented bronze forms: ‘Eventually’, Moore said, ‘I found that form and space are one and the same thing. You can’t understand space without understanding form’ (Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 206).
In Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) Moore was expanding his recent explorations into the visual possibilities inherent in dividing the reclining figure. In 1962, the year before Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) was conceived, Moore had taken a bold step in splitting the human figure into two separate pieces. For Moore, however, a three-piece sculpture further increased the abstract possibilities of the human form. He explained in 1963, the year that Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) was created, his decision behind the further division of form: ‘The two-piece sculptures pose a problem of relationship: the kind of relationship between two people. It’s very different once you divide a thing into three. In the two-piece you have just the head end and the body end…but once you get the three-piece you have the middle and the two ends; and this became something that I wanted to do’ (Moore, quoted in ibid., p. 290). He continued, ‘what led me to this solution was finding a little piece of bone that was the middle of a vertebra, and I realised then that perhaps the connection was through one piece to another – one could have gone on and made a four- or five-piece, like a snake carrying through with its vertebrae’ (Moore, quoted in ibid., p. 290). In dividing the figure into three parts, the human form offered a new sculptural dimension, allowing Moore to examine the coexistence and interaction of form and space within the sculpture. Moreover, the forms appear less as parts of the body and instead take on different contextual associations, something that Moore noted in his likening of Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) to the bridges and architecture of London. Art critic David Sylvester also noted an abstracted, mechanical appearance of Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop); 'the middle form looks man-made, architectonic – a bridge between the ends that is arched like bridge, and a prop for the head end, which leans upon it, clasps it at two points so that they fit together' (D. Sylvester, Henry Moore, exh. cat., London, 1968, p. 93).
Although Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) has a wide range of natural, as well as structural associations, and individually the different pieces of the sculpture appear as abstract forms, for Moore, sculpture was always rooted in the human form, so to imbue it with a sense of energy and life. ‘One of the things I would like to think my sculpture has is a force, is a strength, is a life, a vitality from inside it, so that you have a sense that the form is pressing from inside trying to burst or trying to give off the strength from inside itself’ (Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson, op. cit., p. 198). Impressively residing in the landscape, the state in which Moore preferred his sculpture to be seen, Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2 (Bridge Prop) conjures a myriad of different associations, a monumental vision of the sculptor’s ability to transform the human figure.