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Henry Moore's 'Reclining Figure: Festival' (1951) breaks records

A studio photo of a bronze reclining figure sculpture, with a dark patina and incised line details. The work is resting on a dark grey plint.

Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure: Festival (1951) has broken records, selling for £26.1 million ($31 million) at auction.

The sale was made in the early hours of this morning at the Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale in New York, making it the highest price paid in GBP for a work by Henry Moore.

Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Moore’s Reclining Figure: Festival served as a focal point of London’s newly-built South Bank, coming, for many, to represent the resilience and inventiveness of the British people in the wake of the Second World War.

Initially Moore was asked to contribute a carving, but it was decided that a bronze would be more suitable for the outdoor site. The creation of Moore’s sculpture with its unusual surface decoration of string to define the form, was captured on film by producer John Read during the filming of the 1951 BBC documentary Henry Moore.

After the festival ended, famously, the site was completely cleared. Moore subsequently agreed that further casts could be made of his sculpture with the original cast of Reclining Figure: Festival eventually residing in the public collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, where it can be seen today.

“Having achieved such a record-breaking sum at Sotheby’s this week is a testament to Moore’s defining role in the history of Modern sculpture.”

Godfrey Worsdale, Director of Henry Moore Foundation

A vintage black and white photo from the 1950s showing an abstract reclining figure sculpture sited in front of the London skyline. The dome of St Paul's Cathedral is visible in the background.
Henry Moore, 'Reclining Figure: Festival' 1951 sited in London with St Paul's Cathedral visible behind.
A black and white photo showing the inside of a artist's studio. A middle aged man is standing behind a large plaster sculpture, looking up at the 'head' of the sculpted figure.
Henry Moore in his studio with the large plaster version of 'Reclining Figure: Festival. c.1953

 “The ‘Festival Reclining Figure’ is perhaps my first sculpture where the space and the form are completely dependent on and inseparable from each other. I had reached the stage where I wanted my sculpture to be truly three-dimensional.

“In my earliest use of holes in sculpture, the holes were features in themselves. Now the space and form are so naturally fused that they are one.”

Henry Moore

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