PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED FAMILY COLLECTION
‘[The Family Group series was] Moore’s own answer to the new ethos in British sculpture after the war, which returned to a much more recognisable human figure, and responded to the new opportunities for public sculpture arising out of state support for the arts within a culture of reconstruction’ (Penelope Curtis)
‘[With the birth of Moore’s daughter] the image of the family took on a new, leaping, unpredictable intensity’ (John Russell)
‘[Walter] Gropius asked me to do a piece of sculpture for the school. We talked about it and I suggested that a family group would be the right subject’ (Henry Moore)
Standing among the artist’s most socially-conscious works, Henry Moore’s Family Group offers a poignant vision of familial unity in the wake of the Second World War. It is the largest of a group of sculptures conceived in relation to this theme between 1944 and 1947, which would culminate in Moore’s first monumental bronze of the same title between 1948 and 1949. Inspired in part by his landmark series of wartime Shelter Drawings, and coinciding with the much-anticipated birth of his own daughter in 1946, the work extends Moore’s enduring motif of mother and child into a larger family group. With another work from the edition held in the Phillips Collection, Washington D. C., and a smaller version held in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, the present work is widely considered to represent one of the most complex of Moore’s various configurations. Relishing the malleability of bronze – a relatively new medium for the artist – Moore fuses the forms of two parents, a young boy and a baby into an intimate fourfold unit. Swathes of cloth pull taut over the woman’s legs, evidencing the artist’s early fascination with the formal functions of drapery. A gaping hole articulates the man’s upper torso in the manner of Moore’s later bronzes, creating a spatial dialogue that sets this particular grouping apart from its companions. Originally conceived as a public commission for a communal, all-age school in Cambridgeshire, the large-scale finale to the series was ultimately installed at the Barclay Secondary School in Stevenage, with editions later acquired by Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery and the Hakone Open Air Museum. As Britain began to rebuild itself, Family Group stood as a beacon of hope: an uplifting ode to the future of family, education and art.
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 1934-35, 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. ‘We talked and discussed it’, recalled Moore, ‘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’ (H. Moore, 1963, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 89). Moore began work on the project in earnest in 1944, yet after nine months was informed that Morris had been unable to raise the necessary funds. The artist continued to expand several of his smaller maquettes into larger bronze works – including the present – purely ‘for my own satisfaction’ (H. Moore, letter to D. Miller, 31 January 1951, reprinted in ibid., p. 273). By 1946, buoyed by the success of his major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that year, Moore’s reputation had been propelled onto a new international stage. The completion of the large-scale Family Group at Stevenage in 1949 would ultimately pave the way for his next monumental bronze: Reclining Figure: Festival, commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
Moore would later relate Family Group to his personal contentment following the birth of his daughter Mary – a bittersweet reminder of his own fortuity. His 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 1944, as well as commencing work on the Family Groups, Moore completed his celebrated Madonna and Child for St Matthew’s Church, Northampton: a culmination of his longstanding mother and child motif, and in many ways a precursor to the composition of the present grouping. The swaddled figures of the Shelter Drawings also prompted an increased infatuation with drapery – a feature that carried over from the Northampton commission into the Family Group series. ‘Drapery can emphasise the tension in a figure, for where the form pushes outwards, such as on the shoulders, the thighs, the breasts, etc.’, he later explained; ‘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’ (H. Moore, quoted in P. James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, London, 1968, p. 231). His experiments with clothed anatomies would be driven to new heights following his visit to Greece in 1951, where he admired the sculpted swathes of material that cloaked its ancient monuments.
The linear intuition developed in the Shelter Drawings ultimately brought about a significant change in Moore’s sculptural technique. 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’ (H. Moore, quoted in A. Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore: The Complete Sculpture: 1964-1973, Vol. 4, London, 1977, p. 12). In particular, bronze allowed Moore to amplify his investigations into the relationship between positive and negative space – a defining feature of his subsequent practice. ‘In earlier works, particularly in my carvings, when I wanted to make space in stone sculpture it had been more difficult’, explained Moore. ‘Making a hole in stone is such a willed thing, such a conscious effort, and often the holes became things in themselves. But then the solid stone around them suffers in its shape because its main purpose is to enclose the hole. This isn’t really a true three-dimensional amalgamation between forms and space’ (H. Moore, 1955, quoted in A. Wilkinson (ed.), ibid., pp. 275-76). In the present work, Moore begins to nurture this dialogue, creating a sinuous, organic continuity between open and closed structures. In the elegant interplay between solid and void, the sculpture breathes with a newfound lyricism: a vision of formal harmony at the dawn of a new era.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED FAMILY COLLECTION
signed and dated 'MOORE/46' (on the back)
Henry Moore, O.M., C.H. (1898-1986)
London, Leicester Galleries, New Sculpture and Drawings by Henry Moore, October 1946, no. 7, another cast exhibited.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry Moore: 60 Years of His Art, May - September 1983, exhibition not numbered, another cast exhibited.
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Passions Privées, December 1995 - March 1996, no. 10, another cast exhibited.
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Henry Moore and the Heroic: A Centenary Tribute, January - March 1999, no. 6, another cast exhibited.
W. Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, pp. 8, 141-142, pl. 121, terracotta cast illustrated.
R. Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, p. 353, no. 354, terracotta cast illustrated.
J. Iglesias del Marquet, Henry Moore: Y El inquietante infinito, Barcelona, 1978, no. 33, terracotta cast illustrated.
D. Mitchinson (ed.), Henry Moore Sculpture with comments by the artist, London, 1981, p. 95, no. 178, terracotta cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Moore: 60 Years of His Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 62-63, 123, exhibition not numbered, another cast illustrated.
D. Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture: 1921-48, Vol. I., London, 1988, pp. 16, 150, no. 265, another cast illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Passions Privées, Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, 1995, pp. 286-287, no. 10, another cast illustrated.
P. McCaughey, exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore and the Heroic: A Centenary Tribute, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 1999, n.p., no. 6, another cast illustrated.
with Leicester Galleries, London.
Private collection, London, 1946.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 26 June 1989, lot 60.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, New York, 7 November 1995, lot 47, where purchased by the present owner.
Show bids Estimate