The present work is a study for the sculpture Madonna and Child in the Church of St. Matthew, Northampton. When the full-size sculpture was unveiled it provoked considerable controversy, prompting public debates about the suitability of modern art styles for religious subjects. This was Moore’s first major public commission and provided the artist with an opportunity to develop his long-standing interest in the mother and child theme. It is evident from the present study that the sculpture developed from Moore’s wartime Shelter Drawings, but the sculpture also drew upon Renaissance depictions of the Holy Family.
Moore is one of the most influential public sculptors of the last century. He studied closely Classical, pre-Columbian and African art, and did many significant drawings as part of the creative process while creating original and truly modern sculptural forms inspired by previous art and natural forms. But his drawings were not just studies, Moore regarded them as significant works their own right. Abstractions of organic shapes were his primary motif. His seated, standing, and reclining figures comprise an enduring vocabulary reflecting the universality of the human condition.
Moore was given his first major retrospective abroad by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1946. He won the International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale of 1948. He executed several important public commissions in the 1950s, among them Reclining Figure, 1956–58, for the UNESCO Building in Paris. He was awarded the British Order of Merit in 1963 and in 1978 an exhibition of his work organized by the Arts Council of Great Britain was held at the Serpentine in London, at which time he gave many of his sculptures to the Tate Gallery, London.
Pierre Loeb Gallery, Paris
Lee Kolker, New York (circa 1950)
Sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 16 December 1964, lot 127
Pita Kapnek, Johannesburg
Sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 13 December 1967, lot 185
Vanderwoude Tananbaum Gallery, New York
Private collection, USA (acquired from the above in January 1986)
A. Garrould, ed., Henry Moore, Complete Drawings 1940-49, London, 2001, vol. 3, p. 195, no. AG 43.102, illustrated p. 194