Henry Moore - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Henry Moore, 'Family Group', Lot 33

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Ewan Phillips, London
    Frank and Ivy Avray Wilson, England and France (acquired in 1955)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner on August 29, 1996

  • Exhibited

    Hempstead, Hofstra Museum, Hofstra University; University Park, Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University; Philadelphia, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania; The Baltimore Art Museum, Mother and Child: the Art of Henry Moore, September 10, 1987 - April 17, 1988, no. 31, pp. 138, 141 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 54)

  • Literature

    David Sylvester, ed., Henry Moore: Volume 1, Complete Sculpture 1921-48, London, 1957, no. 267, p. 16 (another example illustrated, p. 149)
    Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, New York, 1959, no. 53, p. xi (another example illustrated, p. 86)
    Will Grohmann, The Art of Henry Moore, London, 1960, no. 122, p. 8 (another example illustrated, p. 168)
    John Hedgecoe, ed., Henry Moore, New York, 1968, no. 3, p. 528 (another example illustrated, p. 176)
    Ionel Jianou, Henry Moore, Paris, 1968, no. 251, p. 75
    Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 364, p. 353 (another example illustrated, p. 170)
    Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto, 1987, fig. 61, p. 129 (another example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Henry Moore’s Family Group sculptures made between 1946 and 1947 represent a pivotal moment in his career. In these works such as the present one, he abandoned the naturalistic approach he took in 1944 and 1945 in favor of a more abstracted arrangement of the figural group. Depicting a mother, father and two children in softly rounded forms angled towards each other, the present example was cast at a critical point in Moore’s life both personally and professionally. In 1946, just one year before this work’s creation, Moore and his wife, Irina, gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Mary, making the subject of family an even more profound statement. In 1948, a year after this work was conceived, Moore would be awarded first prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, cementing his international prominence as a leading post-war artist.

    Originally carved from a single piece of stone, this four-figure arrangement captures a unique sense of familial harmony. As the mother and father figures gaze inward, their arms join to form the two children, creating a sheltering recess for their embrace. As Moore said of his uniquely abstract, yet representational approach to the subject of family units, “If both abstract and human elements are welded together in a work, it must have a fuller, deeper meaning” (Henry Moore, quoted in Philip James, ed., Henry Moore on Sculpture, London, 1966, p. 72). This motif of internal forms cacooned within an external shape would serve as the genesis for a completely abstract series of sculptures and drawings he would embark upon beginning in the early 1950s, such as Upright Internal/External Form housed in the collection of Tate, London.

    In the present Family Group, Moore combined figurative representation with the rounded forms featured in his earlier series of Reclining and Stringed Figures of the 1930s. These works bore a kinship with the prevailing Surrealist movement, placing him squarely in the school of early 20th century modernism. By the 1940s, sculptures like Family Group become the first to separate Moore from these avant-garde movements, freeing him from those artistic ideologies. As Andrew Causey aptly described of the difference between Moore and his modernist peers, for him “Abstraction was a tool, not an objective” (Andrew Causey, “His darkened imagination: Henry Moore”, Tate Etc., issue 18, January 1, 2010, online).

    Moore’s interest in primitive and Pre-Columbian art was another source of inspiration for his abstract-driven practice. Stylistically, this is evident through his incorporation of simplified organic forms with emotive power, which he first encountered as a student visiting the Cycladic figurines in the British Museum’s collection in the 1920s. “I love and admire Cycladic sculpture. It has such great elemental simplicity…The Cycladic marble vases are remarkable inventions, seen just as sculpture in themselves – and the thinness, looked at from the side, of the standing idol figures, adds to their incredible sensitivity,” he recalled (Henry Moore, quoted in a letter to Lord Eccles, June 1969 in Henry Moore, Henry Moore at the British Museum, London, 1981, p. 13).

    Moore’s affinity for primitivism is also evident through his sculptural process in which he adopted direct carving. By working this way, Moore allowed himself to stay true to his chosen medium. He said his goal was “not making stone look like flesh or making wood behave like metal. This is the tenet that I took over from sculptors like Brancusi and Modigliani. It made me hesitate to make material do what I wanted until I began to realize this was a limitation in sculpture so that often the forms were all buried inside each other and heads were given no necks…Out of an exaggerated respect for the material, I was reducing the power of the form” (Henry Moore, quoted in John Hedgecoe, A Monumental Vision: The Sculpture of Henry Moore, London, 1998, p. 46).

    This preoccupation of being true to the medium led to a fixation on the relationship between positive and negative space. This was often achieved through voids carved into the figure’s bodies and beneath the supports on which they sit, both of which are used in the present work. Of this Moore espoused, “Making a hole in stone is such a willed thing, such a conscious effort, and often the holes became things in themselves. But then the solid stone around them suffers in its shape because its main purpose is to enclose the hole” (Henry Moore, quoted in Alan Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, London, 2002, p. 276).

    Moore’s Family Group works have become synonymous with his influence on post-war and contemporary sculpture, a legacy which is celebrated still today. He first explored the subject in the mid-1930s when asked to create an outdoor sculpture for a local college near Cambridge, England. Originally a schoolteacher and born the seventh in a family of eight children, Moore decided on a humanist image that would promote the values which fuel education. As Moore recalls of the commission, “The idea of the family group crystalized before the war. Henry Morris, the Director of Education for Cambridgeshire, asked me to do a sculpture for the Impington Village College, the first of the modern schools in England…designed by Walter Gropius. As the College was going to be used for adult education as well, the idea of connecting parents to children came into my mind” (Henry Moore, quoted in John Hedgecoe, A Monumental Vision: The Sculpture of Henry Moore, London, 1998, p. 106). While the project did not come to fruition due to a lack of funds, Moore continued to explore the motif of the family unit in drawings and small-scale maquettes throughout and after the war. Indeed, Moore’s family group sculptures are often thought of as direct successors to his shelter drawings made during wartime, which depicted figures huddled together seeking shelter from the bomb raids in London. As he explained, “…the scenes of the shelter world…remained vivid in my mind. I felt somehow drawn to it all. Here was something I couldn’t help doing” (Henry Moore, quoted in James Johnson Sweeney, “Henry Moore”, Partisan Review, New York, March - April 1947, p. 184).

    Moore’s preoccupation with the subject would culminate with his first realized public commission in bronze by the Barclay School in London in 1948-1949, for which he made a five-foot-tall Family Group cast in an edition of 5. Examples of this large-scale Family Group are housed in important museum collections such as Tate, London and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the latter of which hosted the artist’s first major solo exhibition in 1946, just one year before the present work was conceived. It was this project that solidified Moore’s reputation as the internationally recognized sculptor that he is today, making the late 1940s the most crucial years in the artist’s career and the Family Group works indisputably his most famous.

    Originally housed in the collection of Ewan Phillips—renowned art historian, critic and dealer—and later in the collection of British abstract painter Frank Avray Wilson, the present example was cast in an edition of 7, two of which are housed in the collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Göteborgs Konstmuseum.

Property of an Important East Coast Collector


Family Group

15 7/8 x 10 1/2 x 7 in. (40.5 x 26.7 x 17.8 cm.)
Executed in 1947, this work is from an edition of 7 plus 2 artist's proofs.

This work is recorded in the archives of the Henry Moore Foundation. Other examples from the edition are housed in the collections of the Göteborgs Konstmuseum, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $2,480,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019