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Mother and Child

Leading up to the 1932 Mother and Child, Moore had carved twelve sculptures on the subject in just three years. He suggested that his preoccupation with the theme came from a 'mother complex'. He reinforced this mythology with the repeated anecdote about rubbing oil into his mother's back as a child, which he described as his first sculptural experience. [1] However, the subject is more likely to have come from examples of mother-and-child sculptures from art history which, as he described, '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'. [2]

Some of Moore's earliest examples of the mother and child directly echo sculptures that he would have seen in the British Museum. In these works the mother and child are a unified form, still resembling a single block of stone. The 1932 sculpture was Moore's first full-length mother and child, and his most ambitious carving to date. Archive images show that Moore initially carved drapery on the lower half of the figure, before transforming it into two legs and a stool. In conversation with Robert Sainsbury, he described how the slowness of carving allows ideas to develop, which may account for this change. Moreover he explained that the drapery had been 'avoiding a solution... it was getting out of the situation too easily.' [3]

Carving the two legs and the stool offered an opening so that the viewer can see through the sculpture, connecting its opposite sides. A small hole pierces the stone behind the neck to suggest hair falling from the head. These aspects, which open the stone in both orientations, demonstrate Moore's growing confidence in carving. Furthermore, the figures have a more naturalistic relationship than Moore's earlier sculptures. The mother holds the child protectively in her arms. Although the two bodies merge, there is tension between the figures. The child pushes against, and looks away from, the mother. The mother peers away from her baby, over her large shoulder and into the distance, seemingly protective and alert. Her eyes are indicated by black beads set into the stone. Other marks offer relief from the immense stoniness of the figures, as the limbs are given detail by incised lines that are seemingly drawn into the surface to delineate fingers and toes.

The figure's vast back evokes Moore's childhood interaction with his mother. The large, flat, smooth surface celebrates the colours and textures in the stone. This relative blankness, compared to the front of the sculpture, may be the result of Moore's working process. At this time, Moore worked through his compositions on paper. Therefore his early works are predominantly focused on one viewpoint, whereas in the 1950s he started conceiving sculptures three-dimensionally in plaster or clay maquettes.

Tania Moore, September 2020

[1] Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 2nd edn (London: Giles de la Mare Publishers, 2003), p.11.

[2] John Hedgecoe and Henry Moore, Henry Spencer Moore (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1968), p.61.

[3] Henry Moore in conversation with Robert Sainsbury, 18 January 1983, Sainsbury Research Unit Archives.

Historic Period: 20th century

Production Place: Britain, England, Europe

Credit: Donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, 1973

Born: 1932
Hornton stone
995.0 x 535.0 x 380.0 mm
Image and text © SCVA Museum, 2024 © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation

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