‘Drawing is the expression and the explanation of the shape of a solid object’, Moore explained to Alan Wilkinson in 1977, ‘...an attempt to understand the full three dimensionality of the human figure, to learn about the object one is drawing, and to present it on the flat surface of the paper’ (Moore quoted in A.G. Wilkinson, exhibition catalogue, The Drawings of Henry Moore, Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1977, p. 12). Moore's lifelong dedication to the practice of draughtsmanship led him to fill sketchbooks with a wide variety of drawings from which he would choose projects to pursue in sculpture, studies which would assist him in the creation of a sketch model in preparation for beginning work on the full-sized sculpture. In the present work, we observe vignettes of many of Moore's most celebrated and developed themes, each section of the composition beautifully developed and fully worked.
Moore also employed drawing when he had a subject already in mind, to sort out from within his theme those variations which seemed worthwhile exploring. Such was the case when he developed the Family Group sculptures, mainly from preliminary studies, in 1944-45. The serene beauty and warmth of humanity with which he imbued these drawings moreover led Moore to once again regard drawing as an autonomous form of expression, purely as an end in itself. He had worked in this manner earlier in the decade when making his famous wartime shelter and coal mine drawings, which depict the human form in situations that did not lend themselves to specifically related sculptural treatment, but as a conception of human form in a more generalised aspect he might apply elsewhere.
The Family Group drawings (Garrould, AG 43-44.1) inspired Moore to treat other domestic subjects during the late 1940s: - as seen in the present work - women engaged in conversation, reading, winding wool and knitting, while occupying an austere, sparsely furnished but luminous household interior. These subjects are also related to the series of drawings Moore executed in the so-called ‘Rescue Sketchbook’ of 1944 (later separated) which Moore created for Edward Sackville-West's melodrama The Rescue, based on Homer's Odyssey. On one sheet Penelope works at her loom (Garrould, AG 44.26). Moore gave the motif of weaving or knitting a mythological dimension in his haunting portrayal of The Three Fates, 1948 (Garrould, AG 48.27): Lachesis on the right holds the distaff, symbolising birth, as Clotho on the left spins the wool yarn, which is life, while Atropos stands between them with her sheers awaiting the dread moment she must cut the thread of life. In the present work, Moore depicts his sister, Mary, as the figure knitting in the lower left section of the composition.
In Figure Studies, Moore has employed his signature mixed technique of watercolour washed over the water-resistant surface created by the repeated striations of wax crayons, overlaid with delicate lines of pen and black ink, which describe the figures’ facial features and help to define the mass of the bodies. Here, Moore’s delicate pattern of line and coloured wash in the figure’s clothes, almost ennobles them in classical drapery. By employing drapery here Moore also recalls the classical art of the Greek and Romans, which he studied at the British Museum, utilising the folded material to emphasise the relationships between his figures.
Figure Studies has not been exhibited publicly since it was acquired by the present owner in the 1950s.