Henry Moore OM, CH

Maquette for Madonna and Child

1943, cast 1944–5

Not on display

Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Object: 146 × 54 × 67 mm
Purchased 1945

Display caption

The mother and child had been a major theme in Moore’s work since the 1920s. Yet when the vicar of St Matthew, Northampton, invited Moore to make a sculpture of the Madonna and Child, he was reluctant to accept. He felt unsure how to adapt his secular interests to the Christian tradition. These bronzes are casts of the original terracotta models he made for the project. They are unusually naturalistic and steeped in references to Renaissance religious art. This suggests Moore was trying to produce a sculpture that people would find both modern and familiar.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry


Maquette for Madonna and Child is a small bronze sculpture cast from a study originally modelled in clay. It depicts a woman seated on a chair hoisting a child up to her left shoulder with her right arm, while her left arm grips the child’s legs below the knees. The child stands on the woman’s left thigh or hip, at a right angle to her chest, and leans away from her shoulder with his right arm around her neck. The child’s legs have not been delineated individually and much of his lower body merges with the mother’s torso. Facial expressions are rendered only minimally, with small dots denoting eyes on each figure. Despite these abbreviations, the critic John Russell suggested that in his figurative sculpture Moore was able to create ‘portraits’ without depicting a specific person by allowing ‘the body to define the character of his figures’.1

The figures appear to be dressed in draped fabric, which clings to their bodies (fig.1). Concentric lines have been incised and modelled on the child’s chest to suggest a tunic, while the woman wears long flowing draperies that conceal her legs and sag into folds between her knees. The mother sits on a chair with horizontal and vertical struts forming back and arm rests.
The sculpture was intended as a representation of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, and is one of a series of preparatory maquettes sculpted by Moore in the spring and early summer of 1943. These maquettes were made to test designs for a large stone sculpture of the Madonna and Child, commissioned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration St Matthew’s Church in Northampton. The final sculpture, Madonna and Child 1943–4 (fig.2), was carved in Hornton stone and was Moore’s first major public commission, providing the artist with an opportunity to develop his long-standing interest in the mother and child theme in line with more traditional representations of the subject, which suited the commission’s demands.

The commission

From clay to bronze

Sources and development

Moore and the Tate collection

Robert Sutton
December 2012

Revised by Alice Correia
March 2014


John Russell, Henry Moore, London 1968, p.92.
See Andrew Causey, The Drawings of Henry Moore, London 2010, p.114.
Walter Hussey, Patron of Art: The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists, London 1985, p.23.
Henry Moore cited in ibid., pp.23–4.
Henry Moore cited in Donald Carroll, The Donald Carroll Interviews, London 1973, p.35, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.269.
Walter Hussey, letter to Henry Moore, December 1942, cited in Hussey 1985, p.26.
Henry Moore, letter to Walter Hussey, cited in Hussey 1985, pp.26–7.
Henry Moore, letter to Walter Hussey, cited in Hussey 1985, p.27.
The pages from the sketchbook are reproduced in Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 3: Complete Drawings 1940–49, Aldershot 2001, pp.190–5.
Moore photographed these terracotta maquettes in various groupings prior to their casting. Fig.4 illustrates six of the twelve models and were reproduced in Herbert Read (ed.), Henry Moore: Sculptures and Drawings, London 1944. This book would become the basis for the first volume of Moore’s catalogue raisonné, in which the same two photographs have been reproduced ever since. See David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, 1944, 5th edn, London 1988, p.138.
A.D.B. Sylvester, ‘The Evolution of Henry Moore’s Sculpture: I’, Burlington Magazine, vol.90, no.543, June 1948, p.158.
Henry Moore, letter to Walter Hussey, 23 June 1943, cited in Hussey 1985, pp.27–8.
Moore cited in Mary Sorrell, ‘Henry Moore’, Apollo, vol.44, November 1946, p.118.
Herbert Read, Henry Moore: A Study of his Life and Work, London 1965, p.152.
Henry Moore cited in Hussey 1985, p.28.
Sylvester 1988, pp.12–13.
Henry Moore, letter to Martin Butlin, 22 January 1963, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23941.
See Ann Garrould (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 3: Complete Drawings 1940–49, Much Hadham 2001, p.195, no.43.105.
Sylvester 1988, pp.12–13.
David Sylvester, ‘The Evolution of Henry Moore’s Sculpture II’, Burlington Magazine, vol.90, no.544, July 1948, p.190.
Moore cited Sorrell 1946, p.117.
Henry Moore, letter to Walter Hussey, 26 August 1943, cited in Hussey 1985, pp.32–3.
See John and Véra Russell, ‘Conversations with Henry Moore’, Sunday Times, 17 December 1961, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, pp.47, 230.
Russell 1968, p.90.
Henry Moore, Head of the Virgin 1922–3 (The Henry Moore Foundation), http://catalogue.henry-moore.org:8080/emuseum/view/objects/asitem/search@/3/invno-asc?t:state:flow=fad5a4f3-134d-4bdf-972c-34b2a62810c0, accessed 6 March 2014.
Henry Moore cited in James Johnson Sweeny, ‘Henry Moore’, Partisan Review, March–April 1947, p.183, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.54.
Margaret Garlake, ‘Moore’s Eclecticism: Difference, Aesthetic Identity and Community in the Architectural Commissions 1938–1958’, in Jane Beckett and Fiona Russell (eds.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays, Aldershot 2003, p.174.
Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, revised edn, London 2003, p.183. Manson’s remark was cited by Sainsbury during an interview undertaken by Berthoud in May 1983.
Henry Moore, letter to John Rothenstein, 12 August 1944, Tate Public Records TG 1/6/36.
Minutes from Trustees Meeting, 19 April 1945, Tate Public Records TG1/3/5.
Minutes from Trustees Meeting, 15 February 1945, Tate Public Records TG 1/3/5.

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