Henry Moore, ‘Family Group’, Richard Green Gallery

Recorded in the Henry Moore Foundation archives as HMF 2506

Frame size: 36 x 31 in / 91.4 x 78.7 cm

This exceptional Family Group is part of an important series of large, highly finished drawings executed by Henry Moore in 1948, representing the culmination of his meditations on the theme inspired by a public commission with personal significance. The intricately modelled, monumental seated figures seem to radiate light and solidity, their tight-knit arrangement of interwoven arms and legs forming a central, circular space in which the object of the parents’ and picture’s focus tentatively stands. In contrast to the frontal or linear organisation of other Family Groups of this date, Moore’s contained and beautifully balanced family of three turn to face each other, connected by and devoted to the protection of their child. The dexterity of the figures three-dimensional description adds to the strength and positivity of the composition. Their elegant, overlapping limbs, defined by the artist’s decisive and refined two-way sectional line technique in ink and crayon are thrown into relief by the balance of linear shading and wash
with glowing areas of wax-resisted card heightened with white. Their skilfully modelled elbows and knees seem to bend towards and simultaneously project out of the heart of the picture. Even the curved oval base upon which the family sits suggests a comforting containment. The stand, the luminous, rough textured appearance of the figures as well as the bricklike articulation of their setting, reveals the sculptural inspiration behind this highly finished, rich and sophisticated drawing.

The idea of the family group originated from a public commission for Village College Impington, suggested to Moore by the architect Walter Gropius in the late 1930s. The school aimed to employ the progressive educational ideas of Henry Morris, the Director for Education in Cambridgeshire, in particular that rural schools should provide facilities for parents as well as children, providing space for films, plays and lectures, to become the social centre of the community. This notion of family unity was to be realised in Moore’s sculpture. Postponed by the advent of the War, Moore returned to the idea in 1944 when the commission was temporarily revived and began making ‘drawings in note book form of family groups.
From these notebook drawings I made a number of small maquettes…Some of the maquettes were ideas for bronze, but most of them were for stone because for the Impington school I
felt stone would be the suitable material’. Moore was delighted in 1947 to receive a second public commission for a family group from John Newson, the Director of Education for Hertfordshire, for Barclay Secondary School, as it provided an opportunity to realise his ideas on the subject on a large scale. Having visited the site, Moore chose from his previous models on the theme, enlarging a terracotta Maquette of 1945. Moore made four large bronze Family Groups for the project during 1948–49, the main sculpture situated at Barclay School, Stevenage, with the other three in the collections of the Tate, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the private collection of Nelson Rockefeller, New York. Although the arrangement of the present drawing varies in several respects from the final sculpture, it retains perhaps its most important compositional element: ‘the child is shown in the arms of his parents, as though the two arms come together and a knot is tied by the child’.

Notwithstanding the stimulus of these public commissions, Moore was fascinated by the subject of the mother and child throughout his career and executed numerous versions in a wide variety of media. ‘From very early on I have had an obsession with the Madonna and Child theme. It has been a universal theme from the beginning of time and some of the earliest sculptures we’ve found from the Neolithic Age are of a Mother and Child. I discovered, when drawing, I could turn every little scribble, blot or smudge into a Mother and Child…So that I was conditioned, as it were, to see it in everything. I suppose it could be explained as a “Mother” complex’. In 1946 depictions of the bond of parental love took on an even greater personal resonance for Moore as his first and only child, Mary, was born on 7th March, named after her paternal grandmother and aunt.

1 Other examples of large Family Group drawings from 1948 are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
2 Ann Garrould suggests that ‘Moore had probably seen the site at Barclay School, Stevenage, where the sculpture LH 269 was to be placed in front of a brick wall.’ AG. 48. 33, op.cit., p. 285.
3 A detailed account of the commission is recalled by the artist in Philip James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, MacDonald, London, 1966, pp. 224–229.
4 The artist cited in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2002, p. 273.
5 The artist cited in David Mitchinson (ed.), Henry Moore Sculpture, with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, p. 102.
6 The artist cited in John Hedgecoe and H. Moore, Henry Spencer Moore, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1968, p. 61.

Signature: Signed and dated lower right: Moore / 48

Toronto, Art Gallery of Toronto, A Selection from the Ayala and Sam Zacks Collection: Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Paintings and Drawings, 1956-57, cat. no. 80, illustrated in catalogue p. 60, pl. 50

Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Drawings, 1940-1949, Vol. III, The Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, London, 2001, p. 286, no. AG 48.38 (HMF 2506)

Ayala Zacks-Abramov, Toronto & Jerusalem, purchased directly from the artist,
then by descent

About Henry Moore

Often regarded as the father of modern British sculpture, Henry Moore’s large-scale bronze and marble sculptures can be found in public parks and plazas around the world. Working in various styles and mediums, Moore is perhaps best known for his highly abstract and interpretive renditions of the human figure, often portrayed in the reclining position. He was influenced by Classical, Pre-Columbian, and African art, and by Surrealism; his biomorphic style has been compared that of Salvador Dalí and Jean Arp. Moore was a longtime friend and colleague of fellow sculptor Barabara Hepworth, having met at the Leeds School of Art around 1919. He also admired the work of Constantin Brancusi, whose organic abstract style resonated with Moore’s belief that observation of nature is essential to artistic creation. Moore himself inspired many artists including his former studio assistants Anthony Caro and Richard Wentworth.

British, 1898-1986, Castleford, United Kingdom, based in Much Hadham, United Kingdom