The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Adds a Bronze Masterpiece

09/28/2017 by

The Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal (MMFA) and CIBC are pleased to announce the gifting of Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 (1961-1962), a key work of art by Henry Moore, to the Museum's collection. 

Originally installed near Dominion Square, in the forecourt of the Montreal CIBC Tower, the artwork is now on permanent display in the Museum's newly expanded Sculpture Garden, in front of the Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion. The donation of this large-scale bronze sculpture is a major contribution to the MMFA's extensive holding of the artist's works, and marks the artist's significance in the history of Montreal.

Purchased from the artist by CIBC in 1962, Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 was the first large-scale outdoor sculpture by Henry Moore to be installed anywhere in Canada. It exemplifies the English artist's well-known talent for blending human and natural forms. The gift to the MMFA is a fitting addition to the major collection of 40 works by Moore, including six smaller bronze sculptures of reclining figures, held by the Museum. It also highlights both institutions' commitment to preserving Montreal's public art.

Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Curator in Chief, MMFA, said, "A huge thank-you to CIBC! Thanks to this major gift, the biggest ever made to its modern collection, the MMFA will enhance the life of our citizens with a spectacular addition to public art in Montreal. We are very happy to add this masterpiece to our Sculpture Garden. For now, this abstract Odalisque is happily nestled within the modern architecture designed by Lebensold in 1976. Once the exhibition La Balade pour la Paix has ended on October 29, the sculpture will be prominently displayed on Sherbrooke St. West, close to Du Musée Avenue, and not far from Crescent Street.''

CIBC has been a major donor to the MMFA, particularly during the Museum's fund-raising campaigns between 2008 and 2012. It has also gifted two important artworks by Jean-Paul Riopelle: a painting, Homage to Grey Owl (1970), in 2001 (on loan this fall as part of the exhibition Mitchell / Riopelle: Nothing in Moderation at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec), and another bronze sculpture, Owl II (1970) in 2002.

"We've had the great privilege of showcasing this Henry Moore sculpture at our Montreal office and we credit our predecessors with having the foresight to acquire this masterpiece from one of the 20th century's greatest sculptors," said Sylvain Vinet, Senior Vice-President and Region Head, Eastern Canada, CIBC. "And now, in recognition of CIBC's 150th birthday, and Montreal's 375th, we are honoured to donate it to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it can be enjoyed by everyone while preserving its cultural legacy."

Timeline of the Sculpture's History

  • 1961-62: Henry Moore's Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 was created at the request of CIBC. The financial institution sought the advice of Canadian artist and art consultant Cleeve Horne on the purchase of a sculptural piece to put in the outdoor plaza in front of the new office tower at 1155 Dorchester Blvd (now René-Lévesque Blvd West).
  • October 30, 1962: It was unveiled by Mayor Jean Drapeau. Unfortunately, during the official unveiling ceremony, it snowed so much that photographers could not get any good pictures before the piece became covered in snow.

Moore's work was hailed as a masterpiece. Dr. Evan Turner, then the Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts said, "Not in one hundred years has Montreal seen such a distinguished new work of public sculpture. [CIBC's] new Moore is, easily, the most important single work of contemporary public sculpture on exhibit anywhere in Canada."

  • January 19, 1963: Dorothy Pfeiffer of The Gazette stated, "I consider the sculpture a marvel of invention, dignity and artistic integrity. I think of it as a contemporary masterpiece… I believe it to be a magnificent art asset not only to the Province of Quebec, but to the whole of Canada."
  • Early 1990s: Following renovations to the building, the sculpture was moved indoors, to the building's atrium.
  • 2017: CIBC celebrates its 150th birthday and Montreal its 375th – thus providing an ideal opportunity to offer the work a new home at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Henry Moore's Semi-abstract Art
Figures and landscapes animate Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 (1961-1962). The human form is divided into three. The leftmost piece rises vertically to a wedge shape that looks like a head. Two large concave depressions on either side of the "spine," boulder-like forms in the middle section, call to mind the lower torso and hips. The sculpture's smallest piece is composed of two parallel rounded shapes that may be interpreted alternately as the peaks of rolling hills or bent kneecaps.

This acquisition is one of only two three-piece-reclining-figure sculptures Moore created between 1961 and 1963. From an edition of seven, with casts in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Tate Gallery, London, this bronze sculpture stands out as a particularly compelling example of Moore's self-professed obsession with semi-abstract reclining figures, the subject to which he would most consistently return throughout his career.

An Enriched Collection of Works by Henry Moore at the MMFA
Thanks to the generosity of long-time benefactors at CIBC, this important donation enriches the MMFA's collection of more than 40 works by Henry Moore. This collection includes such drawings as Reclining Nude and Figure Studies (1937) and other bronze sculptures, such as Large Totem Head (1968), which welcomed visitors in front of the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for several years, Mother and Child (1939) and Woman (also called La Parze) (1957-1958). Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 will join the bronze Sculpture Upright Motive No 5 (1955-1956) in the CGI Sculpture Garden and Max and Iris Stern Garden on Bishop Street, and some ten works by Henry Moore now on display elsewhere in the Museum.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal wishes to thank CIBC for this historic donation of the monumental artwork Three Piece Reclining Figure No 1 by Henry Moore, which will join the Museum's collection of international art, and also to recognize this partner's outstanding support for its educational programs.