Maquette for Mother and Child
Bronze with a light brown patination and golden brown highlights
Height: 8 1/8" (20.7 cm)
Conceived in 1952, cast circa 1952
Edition of 9
Henry Moore was one of the greatest 20th-century sculptors. After the Second World War, he became Britain’s best-known artist both at home and abroad. He was influenced by European Modernism and developed an abstract sculptural language, combining the human figure, particularly the female figure, with references to organic forms such as shells, pebbles and bones. Throughout his career, he focused on the subjects of the mother and child, the reclining figure, the standing figure, and the head.
The current model is singular in its design and artistic language within the sculptors production, and is reminiscent of Picasso’s work rather than Moore’s. It therefore represents a considerable rarity. Maquette for Mother and Child originates from sketches drawn in 1950–1; the bronze being a direct replication of that work on paper.
Henry Moore, Studies for Mother and Child, 1950–1, Graphite, wax crayon, watercolour wash on paper, Kunsthaus Zurich
There are two possible interpretations of its format and symbolism. The first, represents a family trio: mother, father and child, an image that preoccupied Moore from the 1940’s onwards, embodying the loving union between parents and child. We see the father figure on the left, the mother sitting on his knee, and the baby’s head represented by the round shape held by its father. The mother leans forward to embrace the child. The series of ‘mother and child’, and ‘family group’ sculptures from this period are made all the more poignant by the fact that the artists first and only child, Mary, was born in 1946 – further igniting Moore’s interest in the subject.
Henry Moore, Family Group, 1949, Tate Collection
A second translation is far more sinister: two animalistic, serpentine creatures, the left one gripping the other by the neck, in a violent struggle. A quote from Moore in 1974 can perhaps lead us to an interpretation of this model:
‘I’ve done many mother and child sculptures, and most of them have this idea of the larger form in a protective relationship with the smaller form – the sense of gentleness and of tenderness. But this isn’t always so with youth and age. It isn’t always so with very young children or animals. They’re ravenous. It’s as though they want to devour their parent: their need for food, for growing, is such that they have no tender feelings towards the parent. Sometimes the parent has almost to protect itself – and this is the opposite side to what I usually did in my mother and child ideas. I wanted this to seem as though the child was trying to devour its parent – as though the parent, the mother had to hold the child at arm’s length.’
The specific dating on Maquette for Mother and Child is also important, considering the advances of a certain faction of British sculptors into a school known as ‘The Geometry of Fear,’ a term coined by the critic Sir Herbert Read to describe their sculptural language characterised by ‘spiky, alien-looking twisted and tortured figures, executed in pitted bronze or welded metal and vividly expressed a range of states of mind and emotions related to the anxieties and fears of the post-war period’. The group, namely: Robert Adams, Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull were selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale, in 1952, a seminal moment British sculpture. Maquette for Mother and Child associates directly to these other artists work of the period. Examples such as Meadow’s Tank Crab, or Chadwick’s Conjunction show exactly the same hyper-aggressive, existentialist language typical of the period.
Bernard Meadows, Tank Crab, 1956, bronze
Lynn Chadwick, Conjunction, 1953, bronze
Read went on to identify Moore as the ‘father of them all’, and outside the British pavilion his large-scale angular Standing Figure 1950 stood guard. (see Maquette for Standing Figure sold by Bowman Sculpture in 2016).
Henry Moore, Maquette for Standing Figure, 1950, bronze
Discussing Mother and Child in 1963 the critic John Russell echoed Read’s sentiments stating:
Even the hallowed theme of Mother & Child takes on, in one large piece, a new dimension of psychic reality when we realise that the child is in fact threatening to tear its mother to pieces. Moore has abandoned, in short, the pacific view of family-relationships which won him such popularity in the late 1940s and has been aiming to get an ever more powerful dramatic tension into his large pieces. The full hostility of our environment is coming through: the fact, that is to say, that everything around us tends sooner or later towards our destruction: Nature, other people, and ourselves
Other bronze casts of the sculpture are held in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and the Henry Moore Family Collection. The original plaster is held in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.