One of Henry Moore’s dominant themes was the human figure in repose, sometimes seated but more commonly reclining. The reclining figures, which he began sculpting in 1929, were inspired by pre-Columbian Chacmool sculptures of Yucatan rain deities: they are also related to the sculptures from the east pediment of the Parthenon that Moore studied in the British Museum. Moore’s reclining figures connote gods and goddesses of nature, of rivers, seasons, the earth, and its elements.
Much of his figure work tends towards abstraction; the spherical and cylindrical shapes reduce and simplify human anatomy as well as suggest the natural forms of rocks, pebbles, and shells, and even the contours of landscape. These characteristic swelling shapes express his belief in a close affinity between man and nature as well as between sculpture and landscape.
Moore desired his sculptures to assimilate into their surroundings. This attitude is especially manifest in his reclining figures through which he explored the shared qualities of mountains, hills, and the reposing female form. The inclusion of space, which has been a primary concern of modern sculpture, was an important sculptural issue for Moore. He pierced his figures with holes and made hollows and openings that reveal internal forms and articulations. He also grouped distinct forms to create a composite work, seeking equilibrium between the shaped material and the created void, between mass and space.
During the 1960s Moore began to break his sculptures of reclining figures in two or three segments. This dismemberment was probably the result of tensions perceived within his works which he felt could be resolved by severing the internal connections. Moore believed that breaking a sculpture in two involves solutions to the problems of the relationship of the parts. It also offers alternative ways to further manipulate the tensions between mass and void.