The mother and child is a dominant theme in Moore's oeuvre. Beginning in 1922 with his 'earliest surviving independent carving', Moore 'had a long and productive career in which the mother and child figured prominently' (G. Gelburd, intro., Mother and Child: The Art of Henry Moore, exh. cat., Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, New York, 1987, p. 27). Moore's sculptural representations of this subject in the 1950s were influenced by two events of the previous decade, a commission he received from St. Mathew's Church in Northampton, England for a mother and child in 1943, and the birth of his own daughter Mary in 1946. These typically tender, intimate portrayals of maternal love contrast dramatically with the present lot which speaks of a more fraught relationship. This tension is articulated through the jagged head of the mother, her tight grip around the neck of the child who sucks rapaciously at the mother's breast. One of the most striking and unusual examples of this theme, this sculpture has prompted many interpretations. In Roger Berthoud's The Life of Henry Moore (London 1987, p. 198) it is suggested that 'Moore was alarmed at the sight of Mary feeding at Irina's breast'. The artist himself commented: 'I wanted it to seem as though the child was trying to devour its parent, as though the parent, the mother, had to hold the child at arm's length' (A. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 278).
Interviewed for the current Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain, Mary Moore, who was seven when her father created the work, had her own insight in how this sculpture came into being: 'The mother's head is very jagged and I wonder if that isn't because, in the fifties, my father thought he would experiment with having a bronze foundry in our garden. You can melt bronze at quite a low temperature so they managed to, with an enormous pair of bellows, have a furnace in the garden, and they cast quite a few pieces, small pieces, and they cast the maquette for this particular piece. When the bronze comes out, often there are jagged edges left from the mould, and I think that the jagged edges on the head of the mother of this particular maquette, when it was cast, he decided to leave them in a more extreme form. Normally you might file something like that off, but I think that he felt that that happenstance, that circumstance, added to the meaning of the piece.'