Among Moore's earliest surviving works in carved stone is Mother and Child, 1922 (Lund Humphries, no. 3). The sculptor wrote in 1979: "The 'Mother and Child' is one of my two or three obsessions, one of my inexhaustible subjects. This may have something to do with the fact that the 'Madonna and Child' was so important in the art of the past and that one loves the old masters and has learned so much from them. But the subject itself is eternal and unending, with so many sculptural possibilities in it--a small form in relation to a big form, the big form protecting the small one, and so on. It is such a rich subject, both humanly and compositionally, that I will always go on using it" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore, Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p. 213).
Having already done more than twenty sculptures on the Mother and Child theme, Moore received a commission in 1943 to carve a Madonna and Child for St. Matthew's Church in Northampton, England (Lund Humphries, no. 226; fig. 1). This project gave Moore cause to reflect upon the long tradition of western religious art, and to focus on the ways in which a Madonna and Child differs from a purely secular Mother and Child. "The Madonna and Child should have an austerity and a nobility and some touch of grandeur (even hieratic aloofness) which is missing in the everyday Mother and Child" (quoted in D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture, with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, p. 90). The universal and monumental aspect of this stone carving (completed in 1944), with the Madonna seated in serene repose as she supports the infant Christ in her lap, became the paradigm for many of the Mother and Child sculptures of later years, with the result that the religious aspect of the subject was largely subsumed within a secular context. In the present subject, Moore has created a restive or even boisterous infant with recognizable naturalistic characteristics, as opposed to later variations on the theme where the shape of the child becomes an elemental, virtually abstract form.
For Moore, the idea of the Mother and Child occupies a place at the very heart of creation, in both the physical, natural world, and within the creative arts of humankind--in his case, it is a metaphor for work of the sculptor. Gelburd has insightfully established this connection: "Moore continuously found new ways of exploring the theme so that the imagery could take on meaning beyond the aesthetics of its form. The development of the mother and child imagery reveals that Moore's involvement in this theme reaches beyond maternity to an inquiry into birth and creativity. The theme of the mother and child, the mother giving birth, the child struggling to emerge from the maternal womb, is like the stone giving birth to the form, the form struggling to emerge from the block of stone" (Mother and Child, The Art of Henry Moore, exh. cat., Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, New York, 1987, p. 37). Moore's obsessive preoccupation with the theme of the Mother and Child lies at the very heart of the meaning and practice of his art. He declared: "I was conditioned, as it were to see [the Mother and Child] in everything. I suppose it could be explained as a 'Mother' complex" (quoted in A. Wilkinson, ed., op. cit., p. 213).
The first recorded owner of the present bronze was the prominent art historian Lord Kenneth Clark. Lord Clark was famous for promoting and popularizing the arts, especially as the presenter and writer of the TV series and related book Civilisation (1969). He was also the director of The National Gallery, London, from 1935 to 1945. In his capacity as Chairman of the War Artist's Commission, he recommended that Moore be made an Official War Artist. During this period Moore produced some of his most accomplished drawings, depictions of the London Underground known as his "Shelter drawings" and of laborers in the mine in which his father worked.
(fig. 1) Henry Moore, Madonna and Child, 1943-1944. Church of St. Matthew, Northampton. Barcode: 2660 2974