Memories of the Second World War and the ongoing tensions of the ensuing Cold War were the stimulus for Moore's series of Helmet Heads and Warriors, which express contemporary events in archaic, Homeric terms. A third theme that revealed both political and mythic dimensions was King and Queen, for which the present sculpture was executed as a preliminary maquette.
King and Queen (fig.1) was completed around the time of the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953. Many assumed that it was done in connection with this event, "but Moore did not have this in mind. If there was any outside stimulus it came from the fact that he used to read stories about kings and queens to his little daughter" (W. Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, p. 147). While there are formal references to the royal groups from ancient dynastic Egypt or to archaic Greek sculpture, no allusions to any specific myth or historical figures were intended. Max Beckmann painted his nightmarish visions of mythical kingship as an allegory for totalitarianism in modern times; Max Ernst created a menacing, manipulative avatar of royal megalomania in his surreal chess fantasy sculpture Le roi jouant avec la reine. Moore similarly tapped into universal archetypes that know neither time nor place, but whose presence constitutes an essential component in the drama of the human psyche.
In contrast to the Caligulan excesses of Beckmann's or Ernst's royals, Moore's King and Queen, derived from the communal idea that underpins the earlier Family Group sculptures, appear wise and beneficent. They exercise their powers with restraint and in the wider interests of the realm, an idea suggested by the presence of the square wire frame in the maquette, which was not used in the final version. Moore was perhaps holding up an example for contemporary world leaders. The artist wrote:
Perhaps the 'clue' to the group is the King's head, which is a combination of a crown, beard and face symbolising a mixture of primitive kingship and a kind of animal, Pan-like quality. The King is more relaxed and assured in pose than the Queen, who is more upright and consciously queenly. When I came to do the hands and feet of the figures they gave me a chance to express my ideas further by making them more realistic--to bring out the contrast between human grace and the concept of power in primitive kingship (D. Mitchinson, ed., Henry Moore Sculpture with Comments by the Artist, London, 1981, p. 123).
Grohmann praised King and Queen as a highwater mark in Moore's creative work," and noted that it attracted wider acclaim for the sculptor than the Madonnas he had done for Northampton and Claydon, his best-known public works of the 1940s. Moore's conception of his subject was the "combination of nature, man and animal, of the totality of the world, sculpturally speaking of the unity of natural and supernatural, objective and abstract. Thus there is a synthesis here too, synthesis in the combination of the archaic with the contemporary, the unconscious with the spiritual" (op. cit., p. 148).
(fig. 1) Max Ernst, Le roi jouant avec la reine, 1944, 2003 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.