In its abstraction of the human figure and exaggeration of isolated anatomical features, this work is related to African sculpture and to the Surrealist sculpture of Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Within Henry Moore’s own body of work, Three Standing Figures can be seen in connection with the “shelter” drawings of the early 1940s, in which the artist explored the psychological interaction of groups, and with the monumental Three Standing Figures of 1947–49 erected at Battersea Park in London. Classicizing elements of the latter, however remote, endure in the Peggy Guggenheim work. The grouping of three figures, their contrapposto stances, the variety of rhetorical gestures, and the echoes of drapery creases and swags provide visual analogies with ancient sources. Typically, Moore conflates the human figure with the forms of inanimate natural materials such as bone and rock. The perforations through the mass of the sculptured bodies suggest a slow process of erosion by water or wind.
At least three preparatory drawings exist for Three Standing Figures, which was cast in bronze from a plaster original in an edition of eight, with one artist’s proof. A ten-inch maquette preceding it in 1952 was also cast in bronze. Neither of the original plasters survives. Moore used bronze increasingly from the late 1940s; he commented on its greater flexibility in comparison with stone, and its relative strength in withstanding the action of the elements.