‘The rocking chair sculptures were done for my daughter Mary, as toys which actually rock. I discovered while doing them that the speed of the rocking depended on the curvature of the base and the disposition of the weights and balances of the sculpture, so each of them rocks at a different speed.’
(Henry Moore, quoted in John Hedgecoe and Henry Moore, Henry Moore, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London, 1968, p.178).
The Mother and Child subject was to be one of the most important and broad-reaching motifs of Moore’s career, and one which, from the mid-1940s, dominated his output for much of the following decade. Following a number of small Family Group studies made in the late 1940s, from 1947 Moore began to explore this theme through a new motif – the Rocking Chairs. Between 1950 and 1952 Moore produced four varying versions of the subject in bronze, based on a series of drawings made within his Rocking Chair Notebook (1947-48) such as Rocking Chairs: Ideas for Metal Sculpture, (1948, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Fig.1), and subsequent maquettes in plaster (see lot 21), which remain some of the most important and personal sculptures of his oeuvre.
The concept of the sculptures – the only kinetic pieces produced during his life – have their immediate origin in the idea of making a sculpture with movement for his young daughter Mary. An only child, Mary was born in 1946 after sixteen years of marriage and was, as Roger Berthoud writes, ‘in every sense a precious baby’ (Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1987, p.197). Photographs show Moore doting on his young daughter and the fact that these works were conceived with her in mind makes them all the more personal and important. The four bronzes (No.1, No.2, No.3 all similar in size and produced in an edition of six, and the fourth, Rocking Chair No.4 – miniature produced on a smaller scale in an edition of nine) capture a heart-felt intimacy between mother and baby, and the great sense of joy and delight that parenthood brings, and clearly brought for Moore and his wife. These are sculptures that truly sing with a sense of heart-felt fun, aided further by their movement. The works lack any sense of formality, with naturalistically rendered children balancing precariously on the knees of their mother (as in the present work), or being thrown in the air (see Rocking Chair No.3, a version of which was sold in these rooms as part of the Evill/Frost Collection in 2011 for £2,505,250).
The Rocking Chair bronzes also showcase Moore’s continued exploration of the human form, with gentle variations appearing throughout the works. In Rocking Chair No.2, the present cast of which was acquired by the family of the present owners by 1962, the chair on which the mother sits is the most complete of the group, with a pierced back. By No.3 the woman’s body and chair have merged, with a central piercing balancing the raised baby. The mother’s head also differs, with No.2 producing a strikingly beautiful silhouette with gently curling ringlets, the likes of which can be seen in photographs of Moore’s wife Irina of this period. The intimacy of these works offer a fascinating autobiographical insight into the life of one of the most important sculptors of the past century, and are, without doubt, some of the most personal and engaging depictions of the mother and child that the artist created throughout his entire career.
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