In Family Group, Henry Moore has created a celebration of the simplest yet most timeless social group, showing parents with their children. This ancient theme was one which preoccupied Moore for several decades, and which he evoked through his stylised figures in various incarnations. Here, he has lent an intimate grace and elegance to the subject through this vignette-like vision of a family.
Conceived as a public monument, Moore's Family Group celebrates the family as the fundamental unit of social cohesion. With the domestic, more private scale of the present cast, however, the work takes on further meaning, evoking the mother and child motif, which the artist had first explored at the very beginning of his career in 1922. In 1943, just a year before Moore started working on Family Group, the St Matthew's Church in Northampton had commissioned a Madonna and Child from the artist, forcing him to reflect on the theme in even more profound, spiritual terms.
These sculptures celebrated the nation’s anticipated return to peacetime well-being and the pleasures of family life. Moore intended that they should inspire a renewed emphasis on fundamental humanist values, while providing an aesthetic model for community spirit and co-operation, with the promise of progressive social services for all. These sculptures rejoice in the start of new young families. After a half-decade of wartime casualties and a low birth rate, to once again become fruitful and multiply was a crucial requirement for the economic and social revival of Britain during the post-war era. Moore sculpted models of triadic as well as four-figure family groups. The combination of both parents plus two children was capable of generating more varied arrangements and a wider range of emotional expression.
In its drapery and form, Family Group relates to Moore's celebrated Shelter Drawings executed during the Second World War. Drawing from memory after having spent weeks observing life in the underground shelters of London, in those works Moore gave shape to draped figures, sleeping and huddling together in small groups. Developing an idea originally conceived in pre-war England, Family Group stylistically revives Moore's memories from the Blitz. Viewed from this perspective, the work seems to embody the increasingly realistic hopes for serenity and prosperity which Europe nurtured in 1944, as the war approached its end.
Moore often depended on a cohesive surface strategy to create the impression of unity among the figures. By reworking the metal of the sculptures after casting, he was able to vary the expression of every example, rendering each unique. As Moore explained, '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. It should always give the impression whether carved or modelled, of having grown organically, created by pressure from within' (Exhibition catalogue, Mother and Child: The Art of Henry Moore, Hempstead, 1987, p. 15).