The series Family Groups, one of Moore's most important subjects, evolved from a commission he had received for a sculpture to be placed at Walter Gropius's campus of Village College, Impington. The mission of the college was to educate children and adults in the same institution and it lent itself perfectly to Moore's interest in expressing the link between parent and child (the "community of life" as he termed it) in his work. The project, which had been in discussion from 1934, was never completed for this site because of funding problems, but the numerous drawings and maquettes Moore produced for it show how obsessively he worked on it between the years 1944 and 1947.
The theme reflected the artist's wish for harmony in the post-war world and his expression of joy at the prospect of fatherhood. According to Julie Summers the series grew out of Moore's drawings made in London bomb shelters during World War II which focused on the study of close human contact (C. Allemand-Cosneau, ed., Henry Moore, From the Inside Out, New York, 1996, p. 112). The subject held special poignancy for Moore who, following sixteen years of marriage, saw the birth of his daughter Mary in 1946. As Susan Compton noted, "Moore's considerable attention to the family does not only imply a personal response to a subject near to his heart, it consolidates his move towards a wider and more humanist approach appropriate for public sculpture" (Henry Moore, London, 1988, exh. cat., p. 224).
The mother and child had been a recurrent theme in Moore's work from the beginning of his series, but the presence of the male figure in the family group marked a radical development. According to Gail Gelburd, "Although the family groups still strive to avoid symmetry, the addition of the male figure complicates the formal problems. The various maquettes and working models show the sculptor trying different devices for unifying the figures" (Mother and Child: The Art of Henry Moore, Hempstead, 1987, exh. cat., p. 30). Moore executed his family groups in stone, bronze and terracotta and experimented with larger and smaller variations, and also with naturalistic and non-naturalistic renderings. He also reworked the surfaces of the pieces after casting to vary the expression of each example and give the sculpture its own life. As Moore explained, "if a work of sculpture has its own life and form, it will be alive and expansive . . . It should always give the impression whether carved or modeled, of having grown organically, created by pressure from within" (quoted in ibid., p. 15).