It has been described as a “monster” and a work of art so bad that it deserves to be buried, not put on display. But many admitted it was a work of genius, Henry Moore He considers it one of his finest works, and later this year is expected to break auction records as the most expensive sculpture by a British artist.
Moore’s bronze for a reclining, semi-abstract character stopped people in their tracks when it was first shown as a centerpiece in Britain Festival 1951. It was amazing and disturbing. Love her a lot. Some hate it. Quite a few were amused by him.
When he was offered a long-term loan to the city of Leeds, it caused a great dispute, and in 1953, Blue paint vandalized.
Moore singled out it as one of his most important sculptures and the first “in which she succeeded in making form and space inseparable from sculpture”.
Sotheby’s has announced that a copy of Reclining Figure: Festival will be sold at its flagship gallery of Modern Art in New York this November.
Estimated at $30m to $40m (£27.2m – £36.2m), the highest estimate ever for Moore’s work or any work by a British sculptor. The current auction history is kept by another version of Reclining Figure, which has been sold £24.7m in 2016 when the estimate was between £15m and £20m.
The Arts Council commissioned Moore, then one of the world’s most famous sculptors, to make the piece for the Festival of Britain in London.
The work was seen by some as a dramatic representation of Britain’s defiance and resilience in the aftermath of World War II. Others were shocked by it, suggesting that Moore was preoccupied with photographs of atrocities in Nazi concentration camps or post-Hiroshima atomic bombs.
There were also less sublime reactions, perhaps summed up by A Vaughas cartoon of a Moore sculpture of Punch in 1951which was captioned: “That reminds me, dear – did you remember the sandwiches?”
Some people hate him passionately. A storm broke out after Leeds City Council agreed to accept the work of Moore – born in Castleford the son of a miner who had studied at Leeds School of Art – on long-term loan.
An author of the Yorkshire Post letters asked, “Should Leeds always be a dumping ground for every stranger that painters and sculptors can perform?”
Another, writing from Old Vicarage in Wetherby, said that the statue appears to represent “a human form in an advanced stage of decomposition that has been disemboweled, partially decapitated, and has its feet cut off … I read that the sub-committee of Leeds Art Gallery had accepted it … I I am confident that she will be properly buried.”
These views were echoed by the painter who hated Modernism Sir Alfred Munning, former president of the Royal Academy, who called them “brutal”.
Moore refused to get involved in the controversy. “For the artist himself, to get into these controversies, I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “These things excrete themselves in the long run. If I get into quarrels, I will never get any work done.”
Figure Reclining was removed from view in 1956 and loaned to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh in 1961, and entered their collection in 1969. There is still, fortunately, today.
The original plaster statue of the Reclining Figure is in the Tate collection and the other moldings are in the museum’s collections including the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.
Sotheby’s is selling the only copy of an edition of seven kept by the Moore family, the copy that traveled the world when it was loaned to a large British Council gallery in the 1950s. It was privately sold in the 1970s and its sale on November 14 will be the first time this actor has appeared at auction.
Moore realized that the work would be a milestone in his career and worked with the BBC filmmaker John Reed to document the process.
Oliver Parker, President of Sotheby’s EuropeThe work, he said, was number one for 20th-century sculptures. “It is a very innovative work that was perfectly in keeping with the mood of post-war London,” he said.
Before the work was not loved by everyone, but he said, “All great art often divides crowds. If you think of Guernica, it was very controversial when it first appeared. All great art excites. Since then it has become more and more celebrated and more.
“There is something very radical about this statue. There is often a weak moment in the sculpture, you look at it from a certain angle and it doesn’t quite work out. But with this, there is no weak moment. It is universally wonderful.”