Memories of the Second World War and the ongoing tensions of the ensuing Cold War were the stimulus for Moore's series of Helmet Heads and Warriors, which expressed contemporary events in archaic, Homeric terms. A third theme that revealed both political and mythic dimensions was King and Queen. The present work is one of a series of seated figures that led to the culmination of the Queen in this great work.
King and Queen was completed around the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953. Many assumed that it was done in connection with this event, "but Moore did not have this in mind. If there was any outside stimulus it came from the fact that he used to read stories about kings and queens to his little daughter" (W. Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 147). While there are formal references to the royal groups from ancient dynastic Egypt or to archaic Greek sculpture, no allusions to any specific myth or historical figures were intended. Max Beckmann painted his nightmarish visions of mythical kingship as an allegory for totalitarianism in modern times; Max Ernst created a menacing, manipulative avatar of royal megalomania in his surreal chess fantasy sculpture Le roi jouant avec la reine (Spies, no. 2465). Moore similarly tapped into universal archetypes that know neither time nor place, but whose presence constitutes an essential component in the drama of the human psyche.
In contrast to the Caligulan excesses of Beckmann's or Ernst's royals, Moore's King and Queen appear wise and beneficent. They exercise their powers with restraint and in the wider interests of the realm. Moore was perhaps holding up an example for contemporary world leaders when he wrote:
Perhaps the 'clue' to the group is the King's head, which is a combination of a crown, beard and face symbolising a mixture of primitive kingship and a kind of animal, Pan-like quality. The King is more relaxed and assured in pose than the Queen, who is more upright and consciously queenly. When I came to do the hands and feet of the figures they gave me a chance to express my ideas further by making them more realistic--to bring out the contrast between human grace and the concept of power in primitive kingship (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, p. 123).