Conceived in 1975, Working Model for Reclining Mother and Child combines two of Henry Moore’s most celebrated motifs in a single sculpture – the elegant sinuous forms of the reclining figure, and the bodily expression of the intense bond that exists between a mother and her child. The artist found himself continuously preoccupied by these themes throughout his career, coming to see them as two of his fundamental artistic obsessions. As a result of this on-going fascination, both subjects came to be seen as the signature motifs of Moore’s oeuvre, shaping and influencing his unique vision of the human figure.
Both themes had emerged in his works of the 1920s, with Moore carving his first version of the mother and child motif in 1922, followed just two years later by his inaugural reclining figure. Revisiting these subjects across the years in a variety of media and contexts allowed the sculptor to explore the many formal permutations that they had to offer, while also experimenting with the manner in which the nuances of a figure’s body language could evoke a variety of psychological states. In combining the reclining figure with the mother and child in the present work, Moore grants both themes a new aesthetic form while also instilling them with new layers of meaning and narrative interest. Dating from the height of his career, Working Model for Reclining Mother and Child demonstrates Moore’s mastery of the most technically complex expressions of form, and his ability to imbue his sculptures with levels of intense, symbolic meaning.
This work is the second model Moore made in preparation for his large-scale sculpture Reclining Mother and Child (1975-76), examples of which can be found in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, and the Ohara museum of Art in Kurashiki, Japan. At the heart of the sculpture lies a reclining female figure, a model of gently undulating, sinuous rhythms and volumetric richness, as she lifts a young infant before her, its angularity contrasting beautifully with the mother’s sensuous curves. Occupying the seminal position between sketch maquette and fully realised work, the sculpture acted as an intermediate step in Moore’s creative process, allowing the artist to refine the idea proposed in the maquette before it reached the stage of full realization, and to assess the suitability of the proposed material, bronze, to the design. These models allowed Moore greater freedom to experiment with his subjects, granting him the opportunity to become increasingly inventive with his approach to their sculptural forms. Indeed, Moore explained that the ideas for fusion of the reclining figure with the mother and child, ‘came directly from sculptural maquettes I was doing’ (quoted in Henry Moore: Drawings 1969-79, exh. cat., New York, 1979, p. 29).
In Working Model for Reclining Mother and Child, this process of experimentation and refinement can be clearly identified in the number of subtle modifications that Moore introduces to the work at this stage of the design process. Compared with the small, plaster maquette the artist created in the first stages of the sculpture’s inception, the female form in the present work adopts a more relaxed, natural pose, while her general proportions are further refined by the sculptor. Perhaps most strikingly, the angle at which the mother holds her child up is straightened, generating a new dynamic between the two figures. Indeed, rather than the traditional protective or sheltering pose which marked so many of Moore’s versions of the mother and child theme, here the sculptor creates a scene in which the mother marvels at her young child, holding its small body before her so that she may gaze admiringly upon them.
The size of the infant suggests that this is one of the first moments between mother and child, perhaps even their first meeting, a detail which intensifies the emotive content of the work. Capturing the wonder the mother feels as she looks upon her child, Moore imbues the sculpture with a sense of the powerful, intense emotions that are rooted in parental love. The child is fused with the female figure’s right arm, it’s back doubling as the mother’s hand. With this physical proximity of the two characters to one another, Moore celebrates the intimacy of their relationship, portraying the child as an extension of the mother. By uniting them in this way, the artist draws closer attention to the connection between the two figures, and invokes a striking expression of the tenderness which binds a strong adult to the form of a vulnerable infant. In this way, Moore creates a gentle and, above all, engagingly human work, which emphasises the strength of the relationship between mother and child and highlights the inherent bond that exists between the two characters.