During his long and innovative career, Henry Moore remained loyal to several broad themes in his work. Of these themes, arguably the most important are the mother and child and the reclining figure, both of which were integral to Moore's exploration of sculpture. In addition, the ideas of internal/external figures, the presence of holes or voids, and the organic shapes of nature all informed his work. The present work fuses the many aspects of Moore's art, from the projection of internal strength and vitality, to his interest in nature and human relationships. The result is a sculpture that epitomizes Moore's aesthetic, substantiating the claim that "the Reclining Mother and Child of 1960-1 [is] possibly the greatest of Moore's works in bronze" (D. Sylvester, Henry Moore, Tate Gallery, exh. cat., London, 1968, p.15).
Moore's interest in the theme of the mother and child was both personal and universal. It related to his own happy childhood and adult family life, as well as to the ancient sculpture he admired. As he stated, "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 and 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. So that I was conditioned, as it were, to see it in everything. I suppose it could be explained as a 'Mother' complex"(H. Moore and J. Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, New York, 1968, p. 61).
In Reclining Mother and Child, done in the later half of his career, Moore shuns one-sided, simplistic concepts of motherhood for a more complex, ambiguous image. As Alan Bowness has written of 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, Henry Moore, Sculpture and Drawings, Volume 4, London, 1977, p. 17). The mother and child in the present work exemplifies this merging of forms, while the looming hole in the sculpture alludes to the competing force of separation.
Reclining Mother and Child presents a lifetime of creativity in a single work. Both complex and simplistic, the sculpture challenges the viewer's perception of motherhood, nature, and art. As has been stated of this work, "The child-form is powerfully ambiguous - at once explosively aggressive and a blunt huddled baby animal. The mother appears from the front to be nursing it, retaining it, from the back to be giving birth, expelling it" (Sylvester, p. 85). In addition, the void provides a window through which the viewer can see the natural world, thus incorporating the volatile aspects of nature into the work itself. In all respects, Reclining Mother and Child represents the synthesis of the most important elements of Moore's work, an importance which he had noted. As the artist stated:
"I have a particular liking for this Reclining Mother and Child...This work combines several of my different obsessions in sculpture. There's the reclining figure idea; the mother and child idea; and the interior-exterior idea. So it is the amalgamation of many ideas in one sculpture" (Moore, p. 356).
In this later half of his career, Moore concentrated on the large-scaled sculptures he preferred. This large size alters the viewer's relationship with the work, giving it a sense of depth not always apparent in smaller pieces. In addition, Moore intended these pieces to be displayed outside, emphasizing the connection between nature and sculptural forms. The biomorphic elements of this work reflect the shapes of the outdoors surrounding it, while the open composition integrates nature into the work itself.
Ultimately, the complexity of Reclining Mother and Child attests to Moore's artistic talent. He is able to combine numerous elements - vitality, sensuousness, anxiety, serenity - into a cohesive whole, offering a view of a mother and child as a universal symbol of human relationships. The composition itself, the smooth, flowing lines juxtaposed with the gaping holes, reinforces the complex set of emotions it contains. This moment in Moore's career is best summed up by Bowness, who states, "What we have been seeing since 1958 is the creation of a genuine 'late style', something that only occurs with the greatest artists" (Bowness, vol. 4, p. 18).
Fig. 1 Henry Moore, Reclining Mother and Child
Fig. 2 Henry Moore, Reclining Mother and Child
Fig. 3 Henry Moore, Sketch of Reclining Mother
Collection of Rita and Toby Schreiber