Throughout his career Moore concentrated on the theme of a single reclining female figure, in which his production vastly outnumbers all his other subjects combined. Seated female figures had, of course, constituted the basis of his mother - or Madonna -and child sculptures, and they were as well an essential component in the family groups, in which the seated posture served to underscore the securely grounded and harmonious relationship between the two parents. Moore in 1955 began to focus on the idea of the seated female figure, and within the larger context of his oeuvre developed it into a self-contained and fully expressive subject in its own right. Of the three fundamental poses for the human figure - standing, sitting and reclining - the seated figure is the most stable. While Moore more frequently took advantage of the reclining figure for the greater freedom that this pose offered him in relation to the two others, he nevertheless stated, 'In fact if I were told that from now on I should have stone only for seated figures I should not mind it at all' (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson, (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 218).
The seated human form poses a unique challenge for any sculptor: unlike the reclining or standing poses, in which the attitude of the figure may clearly suggest the potential for movement - and in this way project a deeper and more complex psychological dimension - it is more difficult to counter the effect of stasis and absolute rest in a seated figure. Moore overcame these limitations in the present Seated Woman by incorporating unexpected exaggerations and distortions in the figure's forms, especially in the bulging shapes of the upper torso, contrasted with the smallish head, and the absence of arms, hands, feet and facial features. At the other end of her body, David Mitchinson has pointed out 'the curves of the modelling and the vaginal incision across the hugely bulbous skirt, both of which lead the eye to the centre of the form' (H. Moore, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore, From Inside Out, Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1996, p. 139). Moore's richly textured modelling of the figure effectively catches glancing light, setting up a lively interplay between illumination and shadow, itself a kinetic aspect that also aids in overriding any inherent tendency toward immobility in the seated posture.
It is important to remember, nonetheless, that Seated Woman would not possess such a regally imposing and monumental presence - it is in fact larger than life - if the subject were not presented in its seated pose. She is a grand matriarch, Moore's homage and testament to his dear mother, whose presence in his life, even after her death in 1944, became an especially memory-charged touchstone for a distinctive type of presentation among the many conceivable evocations of the female body that the sculptor might pursue. 'She was to me the absolute stability, the rock, the whole thing in life that one knew was there for one's protection', Moore recalled of his mother, 'so it's not surprising that the women have this kind of feeling and that the kind of women I've done in sculpture are mature women rather than young' (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), op. cit. p. 33). The mature female was moreover for Moore an especially powerful symbol of fecundity and maternity, removed from any prurient connotation, as might normally interest artists of various stripes. The grandeur in her presence derives in large measure from that compelling connection by which Moore reaches back through her to the goddesses of Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquity. At the same time, as Will Grohmann has observed, 'the 'Seated Figures' belong to our own day and age; they are superior, modern beings, guardians of a university, a museum or a public square' (W. Grohmnann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 229). It is in this dialogue between past and present, myth and modernity, that Moore most authoritatively affirms the resilience and permanence of the human spirit, and in this Seated Woman praises, on behalf of all flesh born of woman, the towering, majestic, yet compassionate, all-wise and protective maternal body.