Executed in 1942, the present work was one of a series of drawings that Moore made of coalminers in his role as Official War Artist. This subject matter was chosen as coal was the major source of energy in wartime Britain and coalmining was therefore an essential part of the war effort.
The artist produced this series at Wheldale Colliery, Castleford, the coalmine where his father had worked. This commission gave Moore the opportunity to study men at work, a new direction for his subject matter which previously had been based around the female figure. The blackened nature of the sheet with some areas strongly highlighted is typical of this series representing the complete darkness of a coalmine and contrasting patches of illumination cast from the miners' lamps.
Moore found the experience of working in such conditions traumatic and later wrote about it, 'Crawling on sore hands and knees and reaching the actual coal-face was the biggest experience. If one were asked to describe what Hell might be like, this would do' (S. Compton, Exhibition catalogue, Henry Moore, London, 1988, p. 249).
The feeling of figures, hunched up in enclosed, darkened spaces is reminiscent of Moore's drawings of figures sheltering in the London Underground during air raids. However, Susan Compton points out, 'Although the popular conception of a coal-mine is a tunnel similar to those of the London Underground, it was only the large tunnels along which miners could walk that bore a resemblance ... In the part of the mine where the work was done there was no room to stand and the shafts supported by wooden pit props were roughly square in section. Thus Moore's mining drawings closely fit the size of the page, both in the sketchbooks and the drawings ... enlarged from them' (ibid.).