Moore’s rocking chairs uniquely combine the intimate depiction of the mother and child, with the artist's mastery in shaping form. ‘These were done to amuse my daughter when she was a child’, he commented in conversation with Wolfgang Fischer in 1971. ‘To have made them even half-life size – that is, three feet high – would have been wrong. They would have lost their toy-like quality’ (H. Moore, quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 210). These sculptures are Moore's only kinetic works – it is virtually impossible not to want to handle and rock them. ‘I discovered while doing them’, Moore recalled, ‘that the speed of the rocking chair depended on the curvature of the base and the disposition of the weights and balances of the sculpture, so each of them rocks at a different speed’ (H. Moore, quoted in J. Hedgecoe & H. Moore, op. cit., p. 178).
The rocking chair sculptures were done for my daughter Mary ... as toys which actually rock.”
Moore's daughter Mary was born in 1946, the year after he completed the small terracotta family groups. Henry and Irina Moore had been married for sixteen years when she arrived; the sculptor was forty-seven, his wife was thirty-nine, and her previous pregnancies had resulted in miscarriages. Mary remained their only child. ‘She was in every sense a precious baby’, Roger Berthoud has written. ‘Henry was from the first an active and doting father, and played a full part in helping to look after his beloved daughter’ (R. Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, New York, 1987, p. 197). Mary was four when Moore created the Rocking Chairs for her, older than the child in the sculptures – while modeling them, Moore was happily reminiscing about his little girl when she was learning to walk.
The first three Rocking Chairs are each about 12 inches high, this, the fourth, subtitled Miniature (based on No. 3), is just under half the size of the others. This format is certainly the most appealing of the group, from both an emotional and a formal point-of-view. Here the joyousness of the pair is apparent in the flailing excited legs of the infant and the open-mouthed profile of the mother. In comparison to works such as the iconic Reclining Figure Festival, where the figure appears to cry to the sky with distress, in a similar fashion to the mother and child depicted in Picasso’s Guernica, the open mouth format in Rocking Chair No. 4: Miniature is laughing and jubilant.
Grohmann reiterated: ‘[The Rocking Chairs] are enchanting impromptus, the offspring of a lighter muse. One is inclined to suppose that family life underwent a happy release of tension through his young daughter Mary, forgetting that at the same period the frightful 'Helmet' series came into being ... As with Mozart, tragedy is next door to comedy ... jubilation is all the more genuine when behind it stands the totality of life with all its unresolved conflicts’ (W. Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, pp. 142-143).
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