Henry Moore, O.M., C.H. (1898-1986)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT NORTH AMERICAN COLLECTION
Henry Moore, O.M., C.H. (1898-1986)

Two Women and Children

Henry Moore, O.M., C.H. (1898-1986)
Two Women and Children
signed and dated 'Moore/41.' (lower right)
pencil, watercolour, gouache, wax crayon and ink
11 5/8 x 10 5/8 in. (29.5 x 27 cm.)
with Leicester Galleries, London.
with Marlborough Fine Art, London, where purchased by the family of the present owner, 1963.
D. Sylvester, Henry Moore, London, 1949, pl. 194.
Exhibition catalogue, Watercolours and Drawings by Oskar Kokoschka, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, London, Marlborough Fine Art, 1962, p. 29, no. 44, illustrated.
J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore: My Ideas, Inspiration, and Life as an Artist, London, 1968, p. 141.
A. Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Drawings: 1940-49, Vol. 3, Much Hadham, 2001, p. 101, no. AG 41.85, HMF 1836, illustrated.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Watercolours and Drawings by Oskar Kokoschka, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, September 1962, no. 44.
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Lot Essay

Created in 1941, Two Women and Children forms part of Henry Moore’s acclaimed series of Shelter Drawings, which presented an intimate view of life in the unofficial underground shelters of London during the long months of the Blitz. In these highly detailed and sympathetic works, the artist examines the realities of underground night life, where thousands of the city’s population sought shelter to escape the aerial bombing by the German Luftwaffe that was reducing vast portions of the capital to rubble. Moore captures a sense of the unique camaraderie that developed between people caught in these extreme conditions and the overwhelming atmosphere that underpinned life in these temporary refuges, often focusing on small groups huddled together in the dark, oppressive space. Using only a minimal amount of detail, Moore powerfully imbues these figures with a sense of the fear, uncertainty and distress that people experienced as they awaited the cessation of bombing above ground, and transforms them into emblems of the city’s struggle as the reality of the conflict was brought to the home front.

In a letter to his close friend Arthur Sale, Moore described the almost surreal atmosphere of London during the Blitz: ‘In the daytime in London, I can’t believe any bombs can fall – the streets seem just as full as ever, with people on buses, and in the shops, going along as usual, until you come across a slice of a house reduced to a mess of plaster, laths and broken glass, and on each side above it film sets of interiors with pictures in position on the walls and a bedroom door flapping on its hinges…’ (Moore, quoted in A. Feldman, ‘Politics and Invention: Moore and the Second World War’ in exhibition catalogue, Blitz and Blockade: Henry Moore and the Hermitage, Hermitage, St. Petersburg, 2011, p. 21). For Moore, it was only when he saw the queues for the underground network each afternoon that the threat of this nightly aerial bombardment became such a reality. He had first witnessed life in the underground shelters on a tube-ride home on the evening of 11 September, 1940, the fourth night of the Blitz, where he saw hundreds of people on the platforms at each station, gathered with blankets and a handful of possessions, waiting for the air raid to pass. Children slept as the trains roared past, and strangers sat side by side, gathered together as they waited in fear to see the outcome of the bombing. This unexpected encounter had a profound impact on Moore’s drawing, leading him to fill notebook after notebook with sketches. As he recalled, ‘…the scenes of the shelter world, static figures (asleep) – “reclining figures” – remained vivid in my mind, I felt somehow drawn to it all. Here was something I couldn’t help doing… I was absorbed in the work for a whole year. I did nothing else’ (Moore, quoted in A. Mitin, ‘The Shelter Drawings,’ in ibid, p. 31). Accepting an offer of employment from the War Artist’s Advisory Committee on the basis of these sketches, Moore was granted an official permit to the London Underground, and returned two or three nights a week to study life in the rudimentary refuges.

Moore was conscious not to intrude upon the shelterers’ privacy during his trips underground, leaving his drawing materials at home and instead using his time to silently observe life in the make-shift shelters and absorb a sense of their atmosphere. Making short notes in a small pocket book that he carried with him, he would return home at dawn and execute a number of drawings from memory, using these notations as a guide. Often combining several experiences in a single drawing, Moore created archetypal figures rather than individual portraits of the inhabitants of the shelters, transforming them from recognisable individuals into idol-like figures that embody the common experience of suffering and resilience amongst the civilian population in London during the war. For Moore, these figures acted ‘…a bit like the chorus in a Greek drama, telling us about the violence we don’t actually witness’ (Moore, quoted in A. Wilson, Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 261). It was this aspect of the drawings that proved most appealing to the public when they were exhibited and published in the popular press throughout the 1940s, with many contemporary commentators commending Moore’s ability to capture the overwhelming atmosphere of the shelters and create a universal, identifiable impression of the experience of the Blitz.

In works such as Two Women and Children, Moore captures not only the intense atmosphere of the shelters, but also the sense of community that thrived there, as people from all walks of life and social status bonded in their common drive to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. A recurring motif in his Shelter Drawings was the interaction of women in these spaces, often shown in small groups of two or three, sitting alongside one another while an oppressive darkness threatens to envelope them. Here, two seated women are shown side by side, the young children placed prominently on their laps identifying them as a pair of young mothers. Their bodies turn towards one another, creating the impression that they are a single, connected unit, caught in mid-conversation. There is a sense of intimacy to their connection, and yet the slight gap between them suggests that they are not close relatives or friends, but rather two individuals drawn together by the commonalities of their experiences. In this way, Two Mothers and Children may be seen as a reflection on the importance of such friendships in these environments, where the comfort of conversation and a sense of community, helped people to endure the nightly terror and fear that accompanied the bombing. Driven by a common need to protect their children, Moore’s two women eloquently embody the sense of fraternity that underpinned life in the underground shelters, and represent the city’s spirit of endurance that allowed them to survive the war.

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