Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Three Women and Child

Henry Moore (1898-1986)
Three Women and Child
signed and dated 'Moore 44' (lower left)
gouache, watercolor, colored wax crayons, pen and black ink and pencil on paper
15 x 23 5/8 in. (38.1 x 55.9 cm.)
Executed in 1944
F.E. McWilliam, Esq., London (1944); sale, Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1990, lot 388.
Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 29 November 1994, lot 181.
Waddington Galleries, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1995.
R. Melville, Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawings, 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 326 (illustrated).
A. Garrould, Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawings, Complete Drawings 1940-1949, London, 2001, vol. 3, p. 232, no. AG 44.89 (illustrated, p. 233).
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Henry Moore: Figures in Space, Drawings, 1953, no. 74.

Lot Essay

Moore executed the Three Women and Child in 1944, during a remarkably productive phase late in the course of the Second World War. While the end of the war may not have then been quite yet in sight, eventual victory for the Allies was increasingly becoming a certainty. Only three years before, during 1940-1941--the very darkest and bravest days of the war for Britons--Moore had recorded the German aerial Blitz on London in his famous shelter drawings (Garrould, no. AG 40.84; fig. 1). The coal-mine drawings followed in 1941-1942. During this period Moore dedicated his efforts entirely to drawing, putting aside his work in sculpture. The terracotta models that he made in 1943 for the Northampton Madonna and Child, a large stone sculpture completed in early 1944, marked his return to working in three dimensions, and in 1944-45 he worked on the small models for the Family Group sculpture, a commission first proposed before the war, and now revived for a new location. He continued to make drawings as studies for these sculptures, while others are independent pictorial works, as seen here. Three Women and Child reflects both the continuing inspiration that Moore took from his experience in making the shelter drawings, and the importance he now accorded to a grand conception of the seated female figure, which achieved ultimate expression in both the Mother and Child and Family Group sculptures.

Working on the shelter drawings enabled Moore to affect a synthesis--or more precisely, "a clearer tension," as he described it--between the profoundly humanist impulse in his approach to art, which he drew from the classical Mediterranean and Italianate traditions in sculpture, and his compelling interest in archaic art and the art of primitive peoples. These dual aspects may be observed in the treatment he accorded the figures in the present drawing. They possess in their massive forms both a classical grandeur and monumentality, but absent are the classical concerns for beauty and proportion in the description and placement of their anatomical features, and instead Moore intuitively turned to the expressive simplicity of lean and seemingly awkward angled limbs seen in primitive art. The three women exude a powerful, mythic presence, as if Moore has conjured forth from the fables of antiquity the three fates who control human destiny, or more beneficently, the three graces who enrich the lives of humankind. The presence of the boy child adds a casual note to otherwise serious tone of this meeting between friends or sisters; he is, moreover, the symbol of a new generation and hope for the future.

The presence of chairs in a light-filled environment describes a daytime domestic setting, far removed from the dank, dark tunnels of the London tubes in the shelter drawings, or the weakly illuminated, pitch-black subterranean shafts in the coal-mine drawings, series which called for the application of a densely tenebrous chiaroscuro. This drawing is suffused throughout with light, and indeed light appears to emanate from within the figures. The artist has used shadow and some emphatic black modeling only sparingly, mainly to set the figures off from the pale background. The space is relatively shallow, like that in an ancient frieze relief.

Moore has employed here his signature mixed technique of watercolor 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 women's facial features and even a vest-like garment with buttons for the little boy. The artist has manipulated the rippling lines of his crayon to create the massive, ennobling effect of classical drapery, which sheaths the figures in a universal dimension that lies outside of any familiar time and space.

Frederick Edward McWilliam (1909-1992), the initial owner of this drawing, was a sculptor from Northern Ireland who first showed with the British Surrealist Group in 1938. The figure was his primary subject, and in addition to Moore, he admired the work of Brancusi and Giacometti, and drew on elements in ancient Celtic art. During the war he served in India as an intelligence officer in the Royal Air Force; while he was away, his wife Beth, a painter, acquired this drawing while staying as a guest of Henry and Irina Moore at Perry Green, their home in Much Hadham.

(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Air Raid Shelter: Two Seated Women, 1940. Leeds Museums and Galleries.

More from Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale

View All
View All