There are two particular motives or subjects which I have constantly used in my sculpture in the last twenty years; they are the Reclining Figure idea and the Mother and Child idea. (Perhaps of the two the Mother and Child has been the more fundamental obsession)
Reclining Mother and Child I, 1979, combines two of Moore’s most prominent themes that of the Reclining Figure and the Mother and Child. Moore had an absolute fascination with both using them as a site of endless experimentation and innovation. Moore explained, ‘The vital thing for an artist is to have a subject that allows [him] to try out all kinds of formal ideas – things that he doesn’t yet know about for certain but wants to experiment with, as Cézanne did in his Bathers series … The subject-matter is given. It’s settled for you, and you know it and like it, so that within it, within the subject that you’ve done a dozen times before, you are free to invent a completely new form-idea’ (Moore quoted in C. Lichtenstern, Henry Moore: Work-Theory-Impact, London, 2008, p. 95).
For Moore, the enduring appeal of the reclining figure lay in the endless formal and spatial possibilities. This symbiotic relationship between form and space was one of Moore’s central and most enduring sculptural innovations, offering infinite views through and around the sculpture. Moore stressed the importance of such relationship, stating, ‘You can’t understand space without being able to understand form and to understand form you must be able to understand space’ (quoted in ibid., p. 105). This can be seen to great effect in Reclining Mother and Child I, where Moore plays with the notions of solid and void, creating a sinuous and organic form, which not only refers to that of the figure, but also alludes to the landscape and the natural objects that shaped his sculptural forms. Moore explains, ‘The human figure is what interests me most deeply but I have found principles of form and rhythm from the study of natural objects, such as pebbles, rocks, bones, trees and plants’ (Moore quoted in R. Melville, Henry Moore Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, p. 10).
Indeed there is something innately organic about Moore’s Reclining Mother and Child I, which displays a more playful and personal relationship between his two figures than earlier Mother and Child examples. Alan Bowness reflects on this mature period: ‘Moore’s sculptures have indeed become increasingly concerned with human relationships. It has always been a major preoccupation, from the earliest Mother and Child sculpture, but it seems to me that what we are offered in the late works is a paradigm of the human relationship, with the figures groping, touching, embracing, coupling, even merging with each other’ (A. Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawings: 1964-73 , Vol. 4, London, 1977, p. 17).
This heightened sense of paternal love can be seen to coincide with the birth of his first grandchild in 1977. From this point onwards his Mother and Child works found a renewed sense of power and intimacy as he simplified his forms, emphasising the expression of the spirit of his figures. Although perhaps heightened by personal experiences we must understand that the Mother and Child theme was a constant source of inspiration throughout the artist’s career. Moore explained, ‘From very early on I had an obsession with the Mother and Child theme. It has been a universal theme from the beginning of time. Some of the earliest sculptures we’ve found from the Neolithic Age are of a mother and child. I discovered when drawing I could turn every little scribble, blot or smudge into a Mother and Child’ (Moore quoted in H. Moore and J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, New York, 1968, p. 61).