Henry Moore - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "All good art has contained both abstract and surrealist elements, just as it has contained both classical and romantic elements – order and surprise, intellect and imagination, conscious and unconscious. Both sides of the artist’s personality must play their part."
    —Henry Moore
    Between 1957 and 1958, Henry Moore conceived Girl Seated Against Square Wall as a possible sculpture for a commission by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris. When he was approached by UNESCO in May 1955, the British sculptor was already well-established in his career. By the late 1940s, Moore had already had a major retrospective of his work at The Museum of Modern Art, New York and was awarded the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1948. In 1950, Moore was offered knighthood, which he politely declined, and was featured in yet another retrospective, this time at Tate Galleries, London one year later.


    The sculptor Henry Moore in front of his work in the UNESCO Gardens

    While the UNESCO board ultimately decided on a monumental Reclining Figure, the present work posed a thoughtful solution for the unique issues presented in this site-specific commission. Herbert Read wrote, “Some of these [preparatory] maquettes illustrate...the problem of having to accommodate the piece of sculpture against a background of busy fenestration which tended to destroy its outlines and mass. The sculptor played with the possibility of interposing his own wall between the figure and the building, and though this solution was abandoned, it led to a theme, ‘the wall,’ which the sculptor was to exploit later.”i By placing the figure within a rectangular space, Moore foreshortens the viewer’s perspective, placing our attention on the figure at hand. As in a painting on canvas, with a backdrop, the sculptor could more explicitly manipulate the context and mood of a work by limiting the subject’s interaction with its surroundings.


    Henry Moore, Ideas for a Sculpture in a Setting, 1938. Artwork: © The Henry Moore Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Interestingly, the sculptural walls which Moore employed in a series of eleven sculptures during the late 1950s–of which the present work is the largest–are strikingly similar to his early Surrealist drawings from the 1930s. Psychologist Erich Neumann surmised that, “The setting ... [may] be taken as a symbol of our civilization, or our urban, walled-in existence, and of the restrictedness of our consciousness, which has lost touch with nature and life.”ii Moore’s initial ideas and sketches for the UNESCO commission aimed to convey the scientific and educational goals of the organization, sometimes featuring a figure or group of figures reading. However, the mood of the present work is more pensive than hopeful, as the distorted nude sits alone in a sterile space demarcated by the hard edges of the backdrop, emphasizing her “walled-in existence.”  Yet, upon closer examination, the seated girl looks like an active participant in the scene, as she sits alert, listening intently to the words of an unseen speaker. While her feet are planted firmly on the ground, the exaggerated curve of her body implies inherent movement, her hand resting on the edge of the seat, as if to push herself from the bench and stand.

    "The ‘Seated Girl in front of a rectangular Wall’ is a special case. This is a ghostly, surrealistic situation in which figure and wall are on a par with one another, as are the organic and the inert, the mobile and the rigid, the spiritual and its enemy. The architectonic space is open and at the same time enclosed; the seated figure is free and at the same time imprisoned; but it is more of a dream world, removed from time and space, neither tragic nor terrible. The composition exists in an undefinable dream world and cannot be compared to anything." —Will Grohmann

    David and Gerry Pincus


    Originally housed in the collection of Philadelphian philanthropists, David and Gerry Pincus, the present work comes accompanied by storied provenance. The Pincuses were close friends with Henry Moore for years, and this sculpture was the first work they acquired by the artist in 1961. While in Rome for their honeymoon in 1960, they happened to stay at the same hotel as Moore, the Hassler Villa Medici, where they met and initiated a long-time friendship. Gerry, who had seen Moore, wrote a note to him saying her husband was a great admirer of his work and asked him if they could meet. Soon after, Moore invited the couple to visit him in England, and so they changed their honeymoon plans to visit the artist’s studio in Much-Hadham, the first of what became annual visits. It was on this visit in 1961 that they acquired Girl Seated against Square Wall, and they loved it so that they created a cement base in their backyard to display it in front of their front door.


    i Herbert Read in Alan Bowness, ed., Henry Moore, Volume 3: Complete Sculpture 1955-64, London, 1986.

    ii Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, New Jersey, 1985. 

    • Provenance

      David & Gerry Pincus, Philadelphia (acquired directly from the artist circa 1960)
      Christie’s, New York, May 12, 2016, lot 5C
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Collects 20th Century, October 3–November 17, 1963, p. 26 (illustrated)
      Chicago, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago’s Homage to Henry Moore: An exhibition of sculpture and drawings by Henry Moore, December 1–22, 1967, no. 26, n.p. (another cast exhibited and illustrated)

    • Literature

      Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, nos. 186-187, pp. 9, 240-241 (another cast illustrated, pp. 240-241)
      Robert Melville, ed., Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 570, pp. 254-255, 361 (another cast illustrated, p. 254)
      Alan Bowness, ed., Henry Moore, Volume 3: Complete Sculpture 1955-64, London, 1986, no. 425, pp. 32-33, 116 (another cast illustrated, pp. 33, 116)
      David Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, London, 1988, no. 289, pp. 141, 312 (another cast illustrated, p. 141)


Girl Seated against Square Wall

bronze with dark brown and green patina
40 1/2 x 33 x 27 1/2 in. (102.9 x 83.8 x 69.9 cm)
Conceived in 1957-1958 and cast in 1958, this work is from an edition of 12 plus 1 artist’s proof.

Another example from the edition is housed in the permanent collection of the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

Full Cataloguing

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 November 2022