In 1957, the UNESCO “Committee on Architecture and Works of Art”, in collaboration with the Committee of art advisors, chose eleven artists to undertake the task of decorating the permanent Headquarters in Paris, inaugurated in 1958. This Committee included the building’s architects, Bernard Zehrfuss, Marcel Breuer, Luigi Nervi, as well as C. Para-Perez who presided over a committee of art advisors responsible for providing guidance in the choice of works. In this context, UNESCO commissioned a sculpture from Henry Moore to be placed at the center of the piazza in front of the newly built headquarters building. In 1965, on the occasion of the extension of the Organization’s office space, the sculpture was moved next to one of the Building IV patios (located in the piazza).
From the beginning, Moore felt that his sculpture and the architecture of the UNESCO building ought to be in harmony. The preparatory drawings for this sculpture kept by the British Museum (London) or the working models kept at Tate Modern (London) or the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto (Canada) illustrate Moore’s decision to apply to his sculpture a horizontal treatment coherent with the horizontal lines of the building in the background. The travertine marble, often used in the building, created a contrast with the shadowy reflections of the work in the windows behind. In Querceta in Italy, at the foot of the Carrara mountains, Henry Moore worked for about a year on his sculpture. "Reclining Figure", the biggest sculpture Moore ever made, had to be transported to Paris in four pieces.
Henry Moore’s sculpture seems to be a form which is both human and of the earth itself: an archetype of the fertile Earth-Mother. The desire, always present in Moore’s work, to penetrate beneath the surface, led him to create a figure whose life does not only rest in the massive block of stone but also in the empty spaces where the light penetrates. "Reclining Figure" invites the spectator to consider it from different angles provoking new revelations each time. The frontal view presents a gigantic body of rounded forms and an admirable balance between the smaller vertical torso and the massive rock-like aspect of the legs. The back, seen usually against the light from the entrance hall, is bathed in a sunlight that filters through the holes of the breasts and thighs.
Henry Spencer Moore was born on 30 July 1898 in Castleford, Yorkshire (England). Despite an early desire to become a sculptor, Moore began his career as a teacher in Castleford. After his military service during World War I - where he was injured in a gas attack in the Battle of Cambrai (France) - he attended the Leeds School of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant and then the Royal College of Art in London (United Kingdom). Before being appointed ‘Professor of Sculpture’ at the Royal College of Art in 1924, Moore travelled throughout Northern Italy and also to Paris. From 1932 until 1939, Moore taught at the Chelsea School of Art. From 1930 to 1935, he was a member of the "7 and 5 Society", a group of artists which included, among others, Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), with whom he joined "Unit One", an influential movement of modern artists in the United Kingdom, founded by the painter Paul Nash (1889-1946). Fascinated by pre-Colombian and primitive art, Moore gained recognition by his fellow artists for his sculptures with compact forms.
In 1940, under the German bombing of London, Moore produced a unique series of drawings: he was appointed official war artist and was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee to make drawings of Londoners sleeping in the London Underground stations whilst sheltering from the blitz. After World War II, Moore travelled to the USA for the first time, where a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From then onward, Moore gained international recognition and exhibited worldwide: Paris, Venice, Sao Paolo...
In 1977 The Henry Moore Foundation was created in London. Later, in 1982, the foundation, in co-ordination with the Leeds City Council, established The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, dedicated exclusively to sculpture. Henry Moore died in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire (England), on 31 August 1986.