Because Moore completed King and Queen around the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953, it has been widely thought that this regal monument had some connection with this event, but these circumstances were largely coincidental. The idea occurred to Moore as he was working in his studio; he recalled that "whilst manipulating a piece of wax, it began to look like a horned, Pan-like, bearded head. Then it grew a crown and I recognised immediately as the head of a king. I continued and gave it a body... Then I added a second figure to it and it became a 'King and Queen.' I realize now that it was because I was reading stories to Mary, my six-year-old daughter, every night, and most of them were about kings and queens and princesses" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., Berkeley, 2002, p. 281).
This initial sculpture evolved into Maquette for King and Queen, 1952, offered here. The final monumental version, cast the following year, measures nearly 65 inches (164 cm.) tall (Lund Humphries, no. 350; fig. 1). Moore has also mentioned that while working on his King and Queen, "I was reminded of an Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum that I had seen many times of an official and his wife (fig. 2). But somehow the sculptor had raised them above this status and had given them greater dignity and self-assurance, almost a nobility or purpose to make them appear above normal life. I've tried to inject some of this feeling into my sculpture" (J. Hedgecoe, ed., op. cit., 1986, p. 156).
Memories of the Second World War and the persistent tensions of the ensuing Cold War provided the context for Moore's series of Helmet Heads and Warriors, which express his response to contemporary events in archaic, Homeric terms. Moore's King and Queen also embodies mythic and political dimensions, even if the sculptor intended no allusions to any specific myth or historical figures. His theme is a potent one in 20th century art. Beckmann painted his nightmarish visions of mythical kingship as an allegory for totalitarianism in modern times. Ernst created his Le roi jouant avec la reine as a surreal chess fantasy, but this menacing, manipulative king comes across as the monstrous embodiment of royal megalomania and cruelty. Moore similarly tapped into universal human archetypes that know neither time nor place. However, in contrast to the Caligulan excesses of Beckmann's and Ernst's royals, Moore envisioned his King and Queen as being connected to the beneficient communal ideal that informs his earlier Family Group sculptures. His king and queen appear wise, charitable and magnanimous. Will Grohmann has commented, "There is nothing imperious about this royal pair, it is a very human couple" (op. cit., p. 147). They rule not out of love of power or the desire for self-aggrandizement, but with restraint and in deference to the well-being of their subjects. Moore wrote:
"Perhaps the 'clue' to the group is the King's Head, which is a combination of a crown, beard and face symbolising a mixture of primitive kingship and a kind of animal, Pan-like quality. The King is more relaxed and assured in pose than the Queen, who is more upright and consciously queenly. When I came to do the hands and feet of the figures they gave me a chance to express my ideas further by making them more realistic--to bring out the contrast between human grace and the concept of power in primitive kingship" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., op. cit., London, 1981, p. 123).
The square frame which Moore erected around his royal couple in the maquette version freezes them as if in a portrait; it is also a symbol of enlightened and rational governance, lines which establish the limits to power to which even a king and queen must submit. Moore eliminated this frame in the final version, probably because it did not suit the monumental scale of the full-sized figures and projected insufficient visual impact in the outdoor environment for which he intended the sculpture. Roger Berthoud, Moore's biographer, has noted that King and Queen has become "the most famous of all Moore's bronzes and the anthology piece which big collectors and museums ardently seek," adding that some admirers prefer the smaller-sized maquette version with the square frame (op. cit., p. 239).
Grohmann praised King and Queen "as a highwater mark in Moore's creative work, a monument--for that is what it is--timeless and without specific purpose. It quickly won public recognition and higher esteem than the more naturalistic Madonnas at Northampton and for St. Peter's Church in Claydon." Moore's conception of his subject was the "combination of nature, man and animal, of the totality of the world, sculpturally speaking of the unity of natural and supernatural, objective and abstract. Thus there is a synthesis here too, synthesis in the combination of the archaic with the contemporary, the unconscious with the spiritual" (op. cit., p. 148).
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, King and Queen, 1952-1953. Photograph courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation, Much Hadham.
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(fig. 2) A Court Official and his Wife, limestone, Egyptian, late eighteenth dynasty, circa 1340 BC. The British Museum. Photograph by David Finn.
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