Lot 20
  • 20

Henry Moore, O.M., C.H.

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Henry Moore OM, CH
  • Working Model for Mother and Child: Block Seat
  • signed and numbered 2/9
  • bronze
  • height (including base): 62.5cm.; 24¾in.
  • Conceived in 1983, the present work is number 2 from an edition of 9.


Acquired directly from the Artist by Sir Georg & Lady Solti, November 1983, and thence by descent to the present owner


John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd, London, 1968, illustrated p.290 (plaster version);
Alan Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture, Vol. 6, Sculpture 1980-86, Lund Humphries, London, cat. no.837, p.46, illustrated pl.93-4;
Anita Feldman and Malcolm Woodward, Henry Moore Plasters, Royal Academy Publications, London, 2011, pp.150-1, illustrated figs 154 & 155 (plaster version).


The work has recently benefitted from a re-polish, and appears in excellent overall condition. Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The theme of a ‘Mother and Child’ is one that sustained Henry Moore throughout his career – from his very earliest carvings, such as Madonna and Child (1922), through to the last, great flourish of monumental sculptures, of which Mother and Child Block Seat is one of the finest examples. As Moore wrote in 1979,  the theme was ‘one of my two or three obsessions, one of my inexhaustible subjects. This may have something to do with the fact that the "Madonna and Child" was so important in the art of the past and that one loves the old masters and has learned so much from them. But the subject itself is eternal and unending, with so many sculptural possibilities in it – a small form in relation to a big form, the big form protecting the small one, and so on. It is such a rich subject, both humanly and compositionally, that I will always go on using it’ (the Artist, quoted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore –Writings and Conversations, Berkeley, 2002, p.213).

The commission, in 1944, of a monumental carving of a Madonna and Child for the Church of St Matthew in Northampton is often seen as an important milestone in Moore’s career, the moment that he recasts this most traditional Christian image for a secular age. Created nearly 40 years later, Mother and Child, Block Seat retains something of the traditional references so clear in the Northampton Madonna – the eponymous block seat recalling the uncomfortably architectural thrones of early Renaissance paintings, as well as the taut, rectangular backcloths strung behind the holy family by artists such as Bellini. And yet it is also the summation of all that Moore had experimented with in the intervening years, of taking sculptural form to the edge of abstraction yet retaining – uncovering – the most human of values in the process.  It fulfills one of the initial tenets of Modernism, from the early part of the century when Moore himself came of age as an artist: to capture the intensity of religious imaging and imagination but without the trappings of religion itself.

In Mother & Child Block Seat, Moore reduces the child to a sinuous abstract form, a beautifully reduced curve articulated by a raised point, acting as signifier for the face. The head of the mother, too, is extremely abstract, a shallow change in plane the only hint of features or expression. However,  what is remarkable is that, given this formal reduction, just how warm, natural and compelling the relationship between the two is. Is it in the angle of the mother’s  head? The rise of her shoulder? Or something in the sweep and gather of her skirt? Or is it something in the shape of the child and that single point, an attentiveness, of a child burning to speak?  With the seemingly abstract elements of the work so full of emotion, the one area of more obvious naturalism – the mother’s left arm and hand – has an almost counter-intuitive effect, providing a coolness one would normally ascribe to the abstract. This too takes one back to the very beginning of Moore’s career – and beyond:  it is a hand that Rodin could have modelled.

Mother & Child Block Seat was owned – and deeply cherished – by the conductor and musician Sir Georg Solti. The two men had met on the QE2 in the 1970s, instantly becoming friends: Moore the ‘grand old man’ of British sculpture and Solti the acclaimed conductor, revered on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Solti was widely renowned as one of the greatest conductors of an already ‘golden’ generation, creating electrifying live performances through his blend of restless and rigorous perfectionism and explosive spontaneity. In the studio, in his work for Decca, Solti revolutionised the science and art of recording classical music, achieving incredible levels of atmosphere and sound quality. During his long relationship with Decca, Solti oversaw over three hundred recordings, winning more Grammy Awards than any other performer (classical or pop) and his complete cycle of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen has twice been voted the greatest classical recording ever made.

It was as Musical Director of the Covent Garden Opera Company (1961-1971) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1969-1991) that Solti became one of the most revered figures in Classical music. At Covent Garden, he resolved to make the opera house 'quite simply the best opera house in the world’ – which he did, with the company being given the title of ‘The Royal Opera’ in 1962.

Born in Hungary, Solti had suffered greatly from the anti-Semitic laws of the 1930s, first in Budapest and then in Vienna, before escaping to Switzerland and eventually settling in Britain. But Solti held a profound belief that art (be it music, literature, painting or sculpture) was the means by which intolerance could be overcome and reconciliation achieved. After the War, he decided to take up a post at the Bavarian Symphony in Munich – a quite breathtaking decision, given what had happened to him in the 30s, but then this was the mark of the man and the belief of the musician. Henry Moore, whilst evidently spared much of what Solti witnessed, had fought in the trenches of World War I (where he was gassed at the Battle of Cambrai) and had been an official War Artist in World War II and like all Britons, had been profoundly shocked by liberation of the concentration camps (and our possible complicity in not doing something sooner). His artistic interest in universal form, born from the optimism of the 30s, had in the post-War years taken on an urgent need to ally to universal values of compassion – and it is here that Moore and Solti met as equals and friends.

Mother & Child Block Seat was bought directly from Moore on one of the many visits Solti and his family would make to the artist’s studio in the countryside just outside London. As the family story goes, on one visit Moore consulted with Solti’s then-eight-year-old daughter on the positioning of the baby in his Working Model for Draped Reclining Mother and Baby (LH821).  Such a tale shows just how close these two men and their families were, a friendship fired by an unerring belief in the transformative and regenerative power of art.