The genesis for Moore’s focus on the family has its roots in a number of projects – he had long been interested in the Mother and Child, carving early subjects such as Mother and Child (1929, Private Collection) and Mother and Child (1931, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.) but in the mid-1930s, the modernist architect Walter Gropius asked him to conceive a sculpture for a new school he was designing with Maxwell Fry in Impington, near Cambridge. The school would also function as a central meeting point for the surrounding communities and thus, the subject of a family seemed particularly apt. Moore filled nearly two sketchbooks with ideas depicting families in various poses and in the mid-1940s created at least fourteen small maquettes of family groups. The intimacy of the present arrangement undoubtedly recalls Renaissance treatments of the Madonna and Child together with St Peter and the child St John the Baptist, whilst the drapery on the figures is redolent of the Antique. In the context of the 1940s, the closeness of the family nucleus resonates in Moore’s work as an Official war artist – it was on descending into an underground station one night during a bombing raid that he was struck by the clusters of parents and their children huddled together taking shelter along the train platforms. The importance of family took on a personal significance in 1946 when his wife Irina gave birth to their daughter Mary.
Gropius’ Impington School commission was later shelved due to lack of funds however, importantly, F.R.S. Yorke resurrected the idea for the Barclay Secondary School in Stevenage and commissioned Moore to create his first monumental public sculpture – it is significant that such a pivotal commission should have been a family group.
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