Moore created the terracotta model for this bronze Family Group in 1944; it was one of eight sculptures on this theme, the earliest in the series, that he completed that year. He modeled six more in 1945, and in 1947 he made enlargements from three of the terracottas to produce the first bronze editions. It was only four years previously, during the Blitz on London in the darkest hours of the Second World War, that Moore had done his famous series of shelter drawings, and now the glowing humanism of the Family Groups reflected the sculptor's hopes for eventual peace in devastated Europe--while the end was not yet clearly in sight, ultimate victory was surely only a matter of time.
The terracottas had been modeled for a commission that pre-dated the war. The architect Walter Gropius, the erstwhile director of the Weimar Bauhaus, had emigrated to Britain and was working on a design for a school in Impington, near Cambridge. Gropius approached Moore to provide a sculpture for the project, and out of their discussions came an agreement to create a family subject. The beginning of the war brought an end to the project, but in 1944, Henry Morris, director of Cambridgeshire schools, informed Moore that he might be able to obtain funding for the project, and asked him to resume his work on the family sculpture. Moore later recalled: "I said yes, because the idea right from the start had appealed to me and I began drawings in note book form of family groups. From these notebook drawings I made a number of small maquettes" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 273).
Following the completion of fourteen terracotta models, depicting both three- and four-member Family Groups, the prospect for funding came to naught. "I carried out three or four of the six inch maquettes more fully into a slightly larger size for my own satisfaction," Moore wrote, "and then went on with other work" (ibid.). Then in 1947, the Family Group commission was again revived, this time for two school sites, in Stevenage and Harlow, Hertfordshire. Moore was elated at this development, "for here was the chance of carrying through one of the ideas on a large scale which I had wanted to do" (ibid., pp. 273-274). Moore eventually chose two of his three-figure family maquettes for enlargement to life-size for installation at the two schools. The bronze group for Stevenage was cast in 1949 (Lund Humphries, no. 269) and the Hadene stone version for Harlow was completed in 1955 (LH, 364).
Moore favored the triadic configurations for the school commissions possibly because they reflected his own family make-up--his daughter Mary was born in 1946 (see note to lot 12)--but mainly for the reason that the simpler three-member group would project most strongly in an outdoor environment. Among the terracotta models, Moore's four-figure groups actually outnumber the three-member families almost two to one. The combination of two parents plus two children--a boy and a girl--generated more varied arrangements and a wider range of emotional expression. Moore has divided the configuration in the present Family Group into masculine and feminine halves. The father sits on the left, as a little boy stands on his knee and wraps his arms around father's neck to support himself--both gaze outward in the same direction. The mother holds a year-old infant, a girl one might assume, on her lap. All four figures connect and bond through proximity and touch--the husband affectionately reaches over to lay his hand on his wife's shoulder. This Family Group is among the most classical and naturalistic in the series, with appealing details in the clothing and the figure's facial expressions, all contributing to a genial sense of domestic harmony and tranquility.