‘A sculpture must have its own life. Rather than give the impression of a smaller object carved out of a bigger block, it should make the observer feel that what he is seeing contains within itself its own organic energy thrusting outwards.’ - HENRY MOORE 1
The Family Group is considered to be one of Moore’s most celebrated series, synonymous with the Mother and Child and Reclining Figure series. Conceived in 1944, the present work is one of the earliest examples from the series of family groups that Moore created from 1944-1947, which would culminate in Moore’s first large scale bronze sculpture conceived in 1949 and cast between 1950-1 on the subject. Executed in 1944, towards the end of the Second World War, the Family Group series stands as one of the most socially conscious of Moore’s works, with the artist promoting the ideals of social cohesion and unity. The series expands on the motif of the Mother and Child, transforming it into a larger family group, which is seen here in the intimate fourfold unit.
Though inevitably sharpened by Moore’s experiences of war, the ideas for Family Group were set in motion several years before the outbreak of conflict. His earliest notes on the theme date from 1934-1935, when the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius asked him to create a sculpture for a school he was designing in Impington, just outside Cambridge. Henry Morris, the county’s Chief Education Officer, was attempting to instigate a series of ‘village colleges’, which aimed to unite primary, secondary and adult learning in a single centre of study. Moore recalled: ‘We talked and discussed it and I think from that time dates my idea for the family as a subject for sculpture. Instead of just building a school, he was going to make a centre for the whole life of the surrounding villages, and we hit upon this idea of the family being the unit that we were aiming at.’2 Although it was not until 1944 that Moore began to work on the project, it was prematurely cut short nine months later due to lack of funding.
The stimulus for Moore's return to the theme of the family group in 1944 was, in many ways, personal. In the spring of the same year his mother had passed away and this had affected Moore deeply but also brought his family together. Secondly, in March 1946, he and his wife Irina became parents to their only child, Mary, and it was around this time that Moore properly began to consider the idea of the adult male figure in his sculptural work. As he explained,
'The family group ideas were all generated by drawings; and that was perhaps because the whole family group idea was so close to one as a person; we were just going to have our first child, Mary, and it was an obsession.'3
Moore went on to interpret this subject in a variety of different ways, as Will Grohmann has summarised, 'In the years between 1944 and 1947, Moore produced a number of larger and smaller variations in stone, bronze, and terracotta, differing considerably from one another, being both naturalistic and non-naturalistic, though never as abstract as the reclining figures. The theme does not hem him in, but it demands a certain readiness to enter into the meaning of a community such as the family. “To be an artist is to believe in life”, Moore writes, “and this includes community life.” ’4
The Family Group series bears a strong connection to the Shelter Drawings of 1940-1941 and indeed the present work originated as a drawing in pencil, wax crayon, coloured crayon, watercolour wash, pen and ink. Moore’s experience as a wartime artist had opened his eyes to the preciousness and fragility of family life: none more so than his first encounter with the makeshift bomb shelter at Belsize Park Underground Station in 1941. Thematically, his drawings of families huddled together under blankets set the tone for much of his subsequent oeuvre, initially inspiring a renewed focus on grouped sculpture. In these tunnels buried underground Moore was faced not only with the terror of warfare, but perhaps more importantly the stoicism and strength of humanity. Here he witnessed acts of love and protection, as people lay huddled together in the shelters, their bodies pressed against one another for comfort and reassurance. These visions of human sympathy and kindness were to stay with Moore, imbuing his sculptural output with a newfound tenderness and accord, as seen in the present work.
One of the most prominent features in his Shelter Drawings, which is seen to striking effect in the Family Group, is the artist’s fascination with drapery. Moore found that it could successfully convey the form and weight of his bodies, his clothed, parental figures differing from the unclothed children, as seen here. Utilising this technique Moore created not only a sense of monumentality but also unity between the figures, the folds of material unifying the forms as a single entity. Inspired by the classical art of the Greek and Romans, as well as the Ancient Egyptian and Pre-Columbian societies, which he studied at the British Museum, Moore’s experiments with clothed figures was given fresh impetus by his visit to Greece in 1951, where he admired the sculpted swathes of material that cloaked its ancient monuments.
Moore explained his fascination: ‘Drapery can emphasise the tension in a figure, for where the form pushes outwards, such as on the shoulders, the thighs, the breasts, etc. … it can be pulled tight across the form (almost like a bandage), and by contrast with the crumpled slackness of the drapery which lies between the salient points, the pressure from inside is intensified.’5
For Moore, the enduring appeal of the Family Group lay in the endless formal and spatial possibilities, as he continually experimented with the placement and interaction of the figures. This symbiotic relationship between form and space was one of his central and most enduring sculptural innovations, offering infinite views through and around the sculpture. Here, Moore explores the relationship between positive and negative space, creating apertures in the chair, at the heart of the work, and, poignantly, between the mother and her child. Moore stressed the importance of such relationship, stating, ‘You can’t understand space without being able to understand form and to understand form you must be able to understand space.’6
The increased manipulation and complexity of Moore’s forms was made possible through the artist’s adoption of working in bronze. From the 1940s onwards, the carving practices he had cultivated during the previous two decades were gradually relinquished in favour of the flexibility afforded by bronze casting. The Family Group series stands among his first major essays in the medium, anticipating the increasingly prominent role it would come to play in his subsequent practice. ‘It would have held one back to go on carving’, Moore explained, ‘My desire to understand space made the change to bronze necessary. One should not be dominated by the material.’7
1 Moore, quoted in Henry Moore - Sculptures, Drawings, Graphics 1921-1981, Palacio de Vélazquez, Palacio de Cristal & Parque de El Retiro, Madrid, 1981, exhibition catalogue 2 Moore, 1963, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p89 3 Henry Moore, reproduced in exhibition catalogue Henry Moore, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2004, p57 4 Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, H.N. Abrams, New York, 1960, p141 5 Moore, quoted in P. James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, London, 1968, p231 6 Moore, quoted in C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London, 2008, p105 7 Moore, quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore: The Complete Sculpture: 1964-1973, Vol. 4, London, 1977, p12
Private collection, London, by
Thence by descent
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County
Museum of Art, Henry Moore in Southern
October - November 1973, no.
16, another cast exhibited
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry
Moore, 60 Years of His Art, May – September 1983,
unnumbered, listed p122, terracotta
version, not illus
Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings
1921-1969, Harry A. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, New York, 1970, illus b/w pl.321,
Alan Bowness, David Mitchinson
(intro), Celebrating Moore, Works from
the Collection of The Henry Moore Foundation, Selected by David Mitchinson,
cat no.144 p210, illus colour, terracotta version
David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore: Complete Sculpture: 1921-48, Vol 1, London, 1990, cat no.232,
illus b/w p145, unknown cast
Allemand-Cosneau, Manfred Fath and David Mitchinson (Eds.), Henry Moore: From the Inside Out, Plasters,
Carvings and Drawings, Prestel, Munich / New York, 1996, illus b/w fig.50,
Jianou, Henry Moore, Tudor Publishing
Co. Inc, New York, Arted, Editions d’Art, Paris, 1968, cat no.220, p73, not
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