When Henry Moore’s bronze statue was first exhibited in 1951, a critic labeled it “a monstrosity,” a work of art that should be buried as soon as possible. In November, Sotheby’s expects an auction record for a specimen of the reclining, semi-abstract human figure: at least 30 million dollars (30.5 million euros). That would be the highest amount ever for a statue by a British sculptor.
Henry Moore (1898-1986) called Reclining Figure: Festival a key work in his oeuvre. It was the first work, he said, in which he “succeeded in making form and space sculpturally inseparable.”
When he first exhibited it in 1951 at the Festival of Britain in London, it evoked widely differing reactions. Some hailed it as a thrilling portrayal of British resistance and resilience after World War II. Others were startled by the pierced human figure and wondered if Moore was working on images of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps or the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
In the satirical magazine Punch popped up a light-hearted cartoon of a couple walking past the statue whose husband asks, “That reminds me, honey — did you think of sandwiches?”
When Moore loaned the statue to the city of Leeds, it caused controversy and was smeared with blue paint in 1953.
The current auction record for a British sculpture is already in Moore’s name. Another copy of Reclining Figure: Festival brought in over 29 million euros at Christie’s in London in 2016.