The Family Groups are Moore’s most socially-minded sculptures, and for this reason have become for many people the introduction to the sculptor’s art and his most beloved signature works. He conceived this idea for a public commission related to the building of new towns and schools in Britain before the Second World War. It was not until 1944, however, during the height of the war, that it appeared funding for the commission might finally become available. Moore modeled in terra-cotta the initial series of eight Family Groups, including the present four-figure, full family composition.
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. Unique in this series, the man and woman face each other on the diagonal, conveying a relaxed dynamic of opposing but complementary forces, as in the Chinese concept of Yin Yang. The intimate dovetailing of the couple’s legs and Moore’s emphasis on encircling gestures of cradling, embracing and touching create a symbolic heart shape that warmly conveys interconnectedness and familial harmony. The rich patina and etching of the faces on this particular bronze add an endearing character to this more naturalistic rendition of Family Group.
The late owners’ interest in Moore’s Family Groups attests to the enduring appeal of these sculptures. Abe and Helen Sirkin met in London while they were both working for the Marshall Plan after the war. They married and started a family, residing in London for nine years while Abe began his career as a US diplomat. They had two children and a third on the way when they bought the Family Group and visited Henry Moore at Perry Green. In anticipation of the visit, Helen wrote to Moore regarding the small bronze they had recently purchased, which ‘is giving us daily pleasure and satisfaction. My youngest, 2 yrs. old, calls “our family”.’ The day after the visit, she thanked him, writing, ‘If I had just the slightest last-minute fear of disappointment or awkwardness in meeting you after admiring you so greatly through your work alone, it disappeared in the first moment of your generous and sensitive hospitality....the afternoon was even more absorbing and exciting than I ever imagined it could be... a visit that will remain memorable for us and will deepen our appreciation and understanding of your works. Helen and Abe’s four “babyboomer” offspring each have two children and feel this statue represents “our families”, as well as the universal family.