"Reclining Figure." 1951. Henry Moore. On the east front lawn of the Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
1. Literal Description. A bronze cast, with black base and green tone wash. Slightly larger than life size. Estimate six feet long, three feet high. Set on a black altar-table about three and a half feet high.
2. Situation. The sculpture is on the east front lawn of the 18th century stone building that houses the Edinburgh Gallery of Modern Art. The scene is a hillock with vistas to the east and to "Old Town" in the Royal Botanic Garden.
3. Structural Composition. The composition is basically rectangular and boxlike with the stiffness of this construction reinforced by the strong diagonals of legs. Hence, front view:
The two legs make "runners" coming off the heart.
The figure can be geometrically interpreted in the following way:
4. Definition of Mass. Moore has deliberately exaggerated the effect of gravity, by pulling the leg muscles i drawn, relaxed droops. The planes of the calves of the legs are sheer verticals; the breasts are drawn straight down. Only the head opposes this gravitational effect, by being propped up in an alert posture.
In general, the sculpture lacks "massiveness." It is open, hollow, with even the limbs and head appearing from the front, as being hollow. The sculpture appears as if Moore had scooped out the insides of the limbs and solids to create the form, rather than approaching the figure from the outside.
5. Surface Technique. The surface is acid treated to provide a green wash, as if algae had colored the surface at random places. The surface is smooth and reflective. The interesting feature of the surface is the etching of faint lines across the surface. Actually, these lines are not etched, but are embossed - that is, are positive lines. The eyes are two tiny holes dug into the head.
6. Definition of Space. The sculpture is open, it is more "space" than "mass". Furthermore, the open space does not have a volume-effect. The spaces "in" the sculpture are always part of the "exterior" space.
7. Comment. The sculpture strikes me as exhibiting an ambiguity in Moore mind between a "biological" and a "geometric" or even "monumental" form. I lean to the view that Moore's basic intent is biological. The powerful surfaces are the grooves which run down from the back of the head and back, and the groove-form given to the legs and to each leg individually. These grooves remind me of the primitive groove or notochord which is the origin of the spinal chord i high vertebrate embryos. In this perspective, the figure is in a biological transition; it is "in formation," or developing. Hence, also as in the early embryo, the heart is disproportionately large.
The counter-theme or counter-form lies in the rigidity of the posture, with the head and shoulders propped up on the arms.
The surface treatment shows a remarkable timidity on Moore's part. The figure is bold, although somewhat unsuccessful, while the surface embossed lines are distracting at best; at a distance of ten feet they are not noticeable.
The most interesting feature of the form is the rhythm between the curve of the legs, the heart, and the shoulders/head.
Further thought. The geometrical form of illustration 3 looks like a schematic for a large church / a cathedral? Is Moore's figure the mother church? The big heart of faith and religion? (Contrasted to the small eyes of reason?) The rhythms of the reclining figure mimic the undulating hills of Edinburgh. So: landscape is the cathedral of faith?