Madonna and Child, 1943, displays one of Moore’s most iconic and potent motifs: the Mother and Child. The Mother and Child subject became inherent to Moore’s artistic expression. Within it he found a ‘universal symbol’, which like the reclining figure and helmet head motif, withstood his manipulation of form, to stand as a universally recognised emblem of life, which could be understood internationally but in turn, would resonate on a personal level.
As seen in Madonna and Child, Moore simplified his figures, sometimes to the point of abstraction, freeing them from any unnecessary detail or adornment, which would distract from the essence of their being. As seen in the present work, Moore minimises facial expressions, preventing us from relating to the naturalism of the figures, instead encouraging a connection based on the expression of form. This sense of expression was of utmost importance to Moore who strove to express a ‘psychological human element’, which would speak to the collective unconscious.
Moore has succeeded to convey the essence of humanity in the present work by selecting humanities strongest and most unconditional love: that of parental love. Here he interlocks his figures so that they become physically and emotionally entwined, emphasising the strength of their relationship. By knotting together his forms Moore grants a tenderness to the work, as the mother cradles her squirming child, their faces titled gently towards one another. The rhythmic curved outline Moore deploys, which softy undulates throughout the piece, emphasised by his use of drapery, highlights the unification of the two figures, presenting them as one being. In the early stages of his career Moore’s Mother and Child pieces were clearly defined as two separate figures but since the 1940s, and the birth of his daughter, Mary, a few years later in May 1946, Moore began to merge his figures, as seen here, so that they become a single form. The warmth of their relationship is highlighted by the warm tone of the terracotta.
Through the Mother and Child theme, Moore not only referred to the parental relationship but explored the fundamental elements of birth, life and death, whilst discussing the notions of fertility and creation. By including the throne-like seat, on which the figures sit, along with his choice of title, Moore here, references the traditional religious iconography of the Madonna and Child, as explored in lot 1. Gail Gelburd reiterates the significance of the Mother and Child theme for Moore’s artistic practice, she states, ‘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’ (quoted in Exhibition catalogue, Mother and Child: The Art of Henry Moore, New York, Hofstra University Museum, 1987, p. 37).