Henry Moore first experimented with the unconventional, modern medium of concrete in 1926. The British sculptor is renowned for his semi-abstract human figures cast in bronze or carved directly into stone and wood, highlighting the inherent qualities of these materials. Yet Moore also was drawn to concrete, an inexpensive material that could be cast into a mold, modeled while wet, or carved when dry. Moore was likely motivated initially by the prospect of potential sculptural commissions to accompany modern concrete building projects (though no such commission ever materialized).
Reclining Figure, which Moore created in 1932, represents the largest of his approximately 21 sculptures in concrete and one of the most important examples of his work in this medium. Here a female figure reclines on a concrete slab base. Leaning on her right elbow and raising her left leg, the figure achieves balance and a sense of permanence. The exaggerated size and curve of her limbs contribute to the sculpture’s monumentality.
To create Reclining Figure, Moore carved into a block of concrete that he had reinforced with steel rods for structural stability. It is likely that Moore formed this initial block, a process that required pouring large volumes of wet concrete, at his cottage in Kent in the southeast of England, rather than his cramped London studio. Allowing chance to play a role in the artistic process, Moore added red, brown, and black powdered pigments to the wet concrete at random without stirring the mixture uniformly. The resulting variegated surface resembles the mottled colors of natural stone.
Shortly after Moore carved Reclining Figure, it was purchased by Michael Sadler, master of the University College, Oxford, and a friend of the sculptor. Sadler promptly installed Reclining Figure on a low pedestal in the garden outside his home. In 1946 and 1947 Reclining Figure, then in the collection of a London gallery, was shown in the exhibition Henry Moore at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This was Moore’s first major retrospective and the first such exhibition to be dedicated to a British artist. A photograph of Moore with Reclining Figure was featured in a multi-page spread in Life Magazine, “British Sculptor Henry Moore Shocks and Pleases in his First Big Exhibit in U.S.” Shortly after the exhibition, Reclining Figure was purchased by the City Art Museum (now the Saint Louis Art Museum).
The sculpture has been off view for four years while Museum conservators removed an applied coating that had discolored and obscured its original polychrome surface.