Family Group

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  • Provenance

    Continental Fine Arts (Eric Estorick), New York (acquired directly from the artist)
    Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1958

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Henry Moore in Southern California, 2 October - 18 November 1973, no. 16 (present lot exhibited)

  • Literature

    Robert Melville, Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1969, London, 1970, no. 321, pp. 349, 351 (another example illustrated)
    David Sylvester, ed., Henry Moore: Complete Sculpture 1921-48, vol. 1, London, 1990, no. 232, p. 14 (another example illustrated, erroneously catalogued as from an edition of 9, p. 145)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Henry Moore’s Family Group encapsulates one of the most recognisable subjects in art from the 20th century; the sculptor’s depiction of the family remains an enduring and universal motif of warmth and tenderness. Executed in 1944, the theme of Family Group has come to represent one of Moore’s earliest sculptural triumphs, demonstrating his unrivalled mastery of tension, vitality and intimacy, captured exquisitely in bronze. With another edition of the present cast held in the Museum Ludwig Collection, Cologne, Moore’s monumental family group configurations are housed in some of the world’s seminal public and private collections, namely Tate London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and in the collection of Nelson D. Rockefeller. Depicting a family of two adults and two children, Moore’s harmonious composition of four figures is charged with a familiar vitality, which connects all members of the bronze group. A key collector of progressive and thought-provoking works, Betty Sheinbaum purchased Family Group from esteemed dealer, Eric Estorick, in 1958. The present work not only demonstrates Moore’s exquisite craftsmanship as a modern master, but also incorporates a sense of both progressive optimism and retrospective criticism which prevailed in the US and Britain after the Second World War.

    Moore’s Family Group depicts the tenderness developed in the artist’s Mother and Child compositions; his experimentations with this theme hail from his earlier abstract depictions of maternal closeness. Influenced by Bellini on his travels to Italy, visual impressions of Moore’s sculpture of Madonna and Child, 1943 – 1944, housed in St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, are evident in the embrace of the mother figure in the present work, her arms cradling her baby in a maternal clasp. The father figure and the smaller child reading a book convey the nurturing relationship between the didactic father and innocent child. Conveying a paternal and instructive authority over the little figure, the naivety of the scene suspends the viewer in a nostalgic and evocative moment of reflective meditation. In 1944, Moore was yet to become a father, however this theme would develop in his oeuvre following the birth of his daughter. As Harry Seldis states, ‘In every way 1946 was a miraculous year for Henry Moore. On March 7, 1946, his daughter was born and named Mary after his mother and sister. The artist was forty-seven years old, his wife, Irina was thirty nine. Many of the most playful and tender works in Moore’s over-all oeuvre were inspired by this happy event’ (Harry Seldis, quoted in Henry Moore in America, Los Angeles, 1973, p. 72).

    Appealing to a new humanitarian hopefulness in the wake of the Second World War, Moore’s sculpture captures a sense of progressive and collective humanism; his work promoted man’s relationship to nature through his organic shapes, whilst his celebrated Shelter Drawings encapsulated the tender resolve of the family unit which clung together through the darkness of wartime, to emerge into the light of a world left shattered by the devastating effects of conflict. Moving to London to capture the tenacious spirit of Londoners during the Blitz, Moore was appointed the position of the official war artist by Kenneth Clark. In London, Moore formulated his composition for the Family Group sculptures through his series of Shelter Drawings which depicted anxious Londoners, draped in blankets and sheets, hiding in London’s subterraneous underground system from the threat of bombs and fire above. Toying with the positioning and formal rendering of the figures, who feature in family group constellations as well as individually, Moore’s earlier sculptures and Shelter Drawings display the influence of Pre-Columbian sculpture as well as Ancient Greek antiquities, particularly evident in the elements of drapery seen in his figure’s clothes. Moore’s Shelter Drawings were also displayed at his Museum of Modern Art, New York, retrospective in 1946-1947, exhibiting his tender depictions of family groups sheltering from the bombing overhead. A pivotal stage of his development of the Family Group theme, Moore’s graphic work paved the way for his sculptural realisation of the family unit. As Moore stated: ‘The Family Group ideas were all generated by drawings’ (Henry Moore, quoted in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, Tate, online).

    Henry Moore’s Family Groups have become a paradigm of modern public sculpture, with examples in major spaces displayed over two continents. Circa 1935, Moore was approached with an initial proposal to work on a sculpture for the new Village College in Impington, a building designed by Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry. Moore stated that, ‘later the war came and I heard no more about it until, about 1944, Henry Morris told me that he now thought he could get enough money together for the sculpture if I would still like to think of doing it. I said yes, because the idea right from the start had appealed to me and I began drawings in note book form of family groups. From these note book drawings I made a number of small maquettes, a dozen or more’ (Henry Moore, quoted in Alan Wilkinson, ed., Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 273). Experimenting with varying formations of the family unit in different stances and poses, Moore sought to create work which resonated with children and adults alike. Although the Impington sculpture was never realised Moore was offered the opportunity to create another public sculpture for the Barclay School in Stevenage. Unveiled in 1949, Moore revisited the Family Group theme in this work, drawing upon his studious graphic, clay and bronze preparations to create a monumental and poignant signifier of the importance of social cohesion; this sculpture marked his first public sculptural commission after the war. An integral stage in Moore’s realisation of his larger Family Groups, the present work displays Moore’s artistic workings, executed in perfectly proportioned form.

    Whilst Moore’s prominence in Britain had been fully recognised after his service as an official war artist, it was not until Moore’s 1946-1947 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, organised by James Johnson Sweeney, whereby Moore’s reputation found a national foothold in America. Moore’s progressive plans for the Impington sculpture were referenced in the exhibition catalogue, lauding the sense of collective humanism encapsulated in his project’s concept. Similarly Moore’s 1946 Family Group, belonging to Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery, was illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, whilst graphic works featuring family groups were also exhibited from the collections of notable American collectors, namely Robert H. Tannahill and Miss Helen L. Resor. Developing the Barclay School sculpture in 1949 – 1950, Moore worked on two further Family Group casts which were transported to Valentin, Moore’s stateside dealer and close friend, in New York. One was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, going on public display in 1951. The other cast was purchased by Tate, who exhibited the work at Moore’s exhibition the same year; the sculpture has largely stayed on public view ever since. Moore’s personality and charm combined with his evocation of both classical and primitive art, led to his popularity with American actors, critics, curators and collectors alike. In post-war America, newly built and refurbished cities were designed to be functional and utilitarian, and Moore’s outdoor sculptures became increasingly desirable, as did his smaller maquettes and studies. Borne out of a world in international turmoil during the Second World War, Family Group, 1944, incorporates an iconic and unifying message of inclusivity and togetherness, which, post-war, united admirers of Moore’s work across the continents. As collectors of the avant-garde, Moore’s modernism would have resonated with Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum’s commitment to political activism, progressive politics and passion for new forms of artistic representation.

    A wonderfully heartfelt scene, Moore’s Family Group appeals to the inner child. Evoking a reminiscent wistfulness, Moore’s emphasis on the importance of family is evident in the present work, executed at a time when Europe and the US were at war, families’ torn apart by the fighting and chaos of conflict. An intimate scene between a family unit, the viewer is afforded an insight into a tender moment of paternal and maternal care. A lasting image of solidarity, Moore’s Family Group scenes are a culmination of his prolific experimentations with sculpture and drawing alike, their final realisation an archetype in the 20th century canon.


The Modern Form: Property from the Collection of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum

Family Group

bronze with brown patina, on wood base
sculpture 15.6 x 14.6 x 8.3 cm (6 1/8 x 5 3/4 x 3 1/4 in.)
base 1.9 x 16.8 x 9.5 cm (3/4 x 6 5/8 x 3 3/4 in.)
overall 17.5 x 16.8 x 9.5 cm (6 7/8 x 6 5/8 x 3 3/4 in.)

Executed in 1944, this work is from an edition of 11 plus 1 artist's proof.

This work is recorded in the archives of the Henry Moore Foundation.

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £393,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018