UNESCO Reclining Figure 1957-58 (LH 416)


Roman Travertine marble
length 508cm

. . . when I worked out the details, I realised the job was too big to do here, and so I went to Italy with the plaster model and worked there. The finished piece consists of four blocks of Roman travertine, excluding the pedestal base, of course. It is over sixteen feet long and weighs thirty-nine tons, but the original blocks weighed something like sixty tons before I went to work on them. That size and weight, of course, would have made it impossible to have done the carving here in my studio. Transport expenses alone would have been enormous, and I wouldn’t have been able to handle such weights. I produced the full-size stone sculpture at Messrs Henraux’s stone and marble works at Querceta, a small village at the foot of the Carrara Mountains, about a mile from Forte dei Marmi. The stone was quarried near Rome, but Messrs Henraux brought it from the quarries to their works at Querceta for me. There they have a large overhead crane, which simplified everything. But it took me nearly a year, with the help of two of Messrs Henraux’s stone-carvers.

Unesco originally asked me for a bronze. I did some drawings with that in mind, but as I thought about it, I realised that since bronze goes dark outdoors, and the sculpture would have as its background a building that is mostly glass, which looks black, the fenestration would have been too much the same tone, and you
would have lost the sculpture. So then I worked on the idea of siting the figure against a background of its own, but then, inside the building you wouldn’t have had a view of the sculpture. Half the views would have been lost. So I finally decided the only solution was to use a light-coloured stone, and I settled on the same stone they’ve used for the top of the building: travertine. It’s a beautiful stone. I’d always wanted to do a large piece in it. At the unveiling it looked too white – all newly carved stone has a white dust on it – but on my last trip to Paris, I went to Unesco, and I saw that it’s weathering nicely. In ten or twenty years’ time, with the washing of the Paris rain, it will be fine. Half of Rome is built of travertine.

Of course, it was a harder job than it would have been if I’d done it in bronze. When you carve, you’re dealing with the absolute final piece. The practical problems are much greater than those you have with a large bronze. If I’d done it in bronze, the original would have been in plaster, and hollow. I’d have cut it up and shipped it off to the bronze founder, and the practical problems would have been his.

Henry Moore quoted in Carlton Lake, 'Henry Moore’s World', Atlantic Monthly, vol.209, no.1, January 1962, p.42-43