Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Family Group 1949, cast 1950-1

Family Group was Moore’s first larger scale bronze sculpture. Originally designed for a school in Stevenage, the piece has been seen as symbolising aspects of the values of the post-war era of austerity and reconstruction.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Family Group
1949, cast 1950–1
1540 x 1180 x 700 mm
Inscribed ‘Henry Moore’ and stamped ‘Alexis Rudier Fondeur, Paris’ on rear of base
Purchased from the artist through the Buchholz Gallery, New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1950
In an edition of 4 plus 2 artist’s copies


This bronze sculpture depicts an almost life-size man and woman seated on a low bench, holding a child between them. The woman sits to the right of the man and holds the child over her lap with both her arms. The man’s left arm support’s the child’s legs while his right hand rests on the woman’s left shoulder. The title, Family Group, indicates that the man and the woman are the parents of the small child.
Henry Moore 'Family Group' 1949, cast 1950–1
Henry Moore
Family Group 1949, cast 1950–1
Tate N06004
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Family Group 1949, cast 1950–1, Side view
Tate N06004
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved

The poses of the two adults seem to mirror each other, especially in the way that the woman’s right arm and the man’s left arm both curve outwards in a similar arc to hold the child between them (fig.1). The woman has small domed breasts and wears an ankle length skirt that drapes between her knees and stretches across the gap between her shins. Her legs are positioned straight in front of her, while the man’s thin, tubular legs are positioned at a slight angle, orientated towards the woman. Unlike the woman, the man does not appear to be wearing any clothing on his lower body.
When viewed from the side it becomes apparent that the sculpture is not very deep (fig.2). The figures’ knees are drawn up so that their bodies appear to be folding inwards, and their torsos are unnaturally thin. In contrast, the child is chubby and rounded. Positioned in the middle of the sculpture and held aloft by its parents, the child is the natural focal point. Discussing the arrangement of the figures, Moore identified how ‘the arms of the mother and the father [intertwine] with the child forming a knot between them, tying the three into a family unity’.1

Origins of Family Group

Henry Moore 'Ideas for Sculpture: Study for Mother and Child sculpture' 1934–5
Henry Moore
Ideas for Sculpture: Study for Mother and Child sculpture 1934–5
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
In 1968 Moore stated that ‘the idea of the family group crystallized before the war’, when the German architect Walter Gropius proposed to Moore that he make a large-scale sculpture for a school in Impington, near Cambridge, which was designed by Gropius and Maxwell Fry in 1935–6.2 A handwritten note on a page of sketches dated 1934–5 (fig.3) indicates that at this time Moore was thinking about how to create a sculpture that would be meaningful to both adults and children. At the top of the page, above a series of sketches for a ‘mother and child’ sculpture, Moore wrote, ‘both for grown ups and child and anyhow in time the children will grow up, though children not having such fixed opinions are likely to accept and respond directly to a new conception than adults’.3
The college, which was opened in 1939, was designed to be a flexible space that catered for all the family, acting as the focal point for the entire community.4 Moore later recalled discussing the commission with Henry Morris, Chief Education Officer for Cambridgeshire County Council:
we talked and discussed it, and I think from that time dates my idea for the family as a subject for sculpture. Instead of just building a school, he was going to make a centre for the whole life of the surrounding villages, and we hit upon this idea of the family being the unit that we were aiming at.5
In 1951 Moore wrote 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.6
Henry Moore 'Family Group' 1945
Henry Moore
Family Group 1945
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
Moore filled nearly two sketchbooks with drawings presenting family groups in different poses. Some present a mother, father and two children of different ages, while others present the parents with only one child. Moore later described drawing as a way not only of generating ideas, but also of ‘sorting them out’.7 By recording his ideas on paper, Moore was able to review, select and edit the compositions that he felt were worth developing into small clay maquettes. The drawing titled Family Group 1945 (fig.4) can be identified as the preparatory sketch for the final full-size bronze sculpture, and demonstrates how Moore had fully conceived the arrangement of the figures prior to executing the composition in three-dimensions. In 1963, when Moore was asked by the critic David Sylvester which was the last important sculpture to have been developed from drawings, Moore replied, ‘I think the Family Group ones probably. The Family Group ideas were all generated by drawings’.8
Henry Moore 'Family Group' 1945
Henry Moore
Family Group 1945
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The small clay maquette that Moore subsequently produced (fig.5) replicates all of the features of the drawing, including the father’s split head, which appears to represent an open mouth facing upwards. In addition to this maquette, Moore made at least thirteen other clay models of family groups.9 Ten of these models were cast in bronze editions, three of which are held in the Tate collection (see Tate N05604–N05606). Although these maquettes are described in the artist’s catalogue raisonné as terracottas, in 1963 Moore explained that ‘the original maquettes of the ... FAMILY GROUP sculptures were all modelled direct in clay and then baked, and so became terracottas. It was from these terracottas that the small bronzes were cast’.10
Ultimately, the Impington commission was unsuccessful, as Moore recalled in 1951:
I must have worked for nine months or so on the Family Group themes and ideas, but again, Henry Morris found it difficult to raise money for the sculpture, and also my maquettes were not liked by the local Education authorities, and again nothing materialised. I carried out three or four of the six inch maquettes more fully in a slightly larger size for my own satisfaction, and then I went on with other work.11
However, an opportunity to complete the sculpture arose in 1947 when Moore was approached by John Newsom, the Director of Education in Hertfordshire, who enquired whether he would be interested in producing a new piece of sculpture for Barclay Secondary School, a new school in Stevenage. Moore readily agreed, ‘for here was the chance of carrying through one of the ideas on a large scale which I had wanted to do. I went to see the school and chose from my previous ideas the one which I thought would be right for Stevenage and also one which I had wanted most to carry out on a life-size scale’.12

Although it was not easy convincing the county education committee that the sculpture would be suitable, the commission was ultimately approved in 1949.13 The finished work was Moore’s first major bronze sculpture and his first large-scale sculpture to be editioned in multiple casts. According to Moore’s biographer Roger Berthoud, ‘Henry’s fee had struck the education committee as excessive. So he reduced it to what he reckoned was cast price, about £750, covering casting, transport, materials, enlargement etc., on the understanding that he could make extra casts and dispose of them himself: a concession from which he was overwhelmingly the gainer’.14

From plaster to bronze

Henry Moore 'Family Group' 1945
Henry Moore
Family Group 1945
The Henry Moore Foundation
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
After choosing the maquette he wanted to enlarge for the Barclay School commission, Moore then made a plaster working model of the sculpture (fig.6).15 This model was slightly larger than the small maquette, and provided an opportunity for Moore to refine his design. The main difference between the original clay maquette and the final bronze version is the way the head of the father is depicted. As Moore explained,
in the small version the split head of the man gives a vitality and interest necessary to the composition, particularly as all three heads have only slight indications of features. When it came to the life-size version, the figures each became obviously human, and related to each other and the split head of the man became impossible, for it was so unlike the woman and the child.16
Full-size plaster version of Family Group 1948–9
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The design was then enlarged in plaster to full-size by Moore and his studio assistant Bernard Meadows.17 According to the curator David Mitchinson, this model ‘was Moore’s earliest life-sized sculpture to be made in plaster’.18 To make this model, Moore and Meadows first had to construct an armature, probably from wood or wire netting, over which layers of plaster could be built up using trowels and spatulas. The plaster was constructed in three parts: the mother, the father, and the adults’ arms holding the child (fig.7). These were then assembled together so that attention could be paid to the surface texture of the sculpture and the individual features of the figures.
Photograph taken in 1949 of two full-size plaster versions of Family Group
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The full-size plaster was finished in 1949, and it was probably at this time that a second plaster version was made (fig.8). When asked why two plasters were created, Meadows replied ‘I should think for exhibition purposes’, although Moore may have wanted to keep a second copy in case the original plaster was damaged or destroyed during the casting process.19 The first bronze version of Family Group, destined for the Barclay School, was cast at the Fiorini Art Bronze Foundry in London. In 1951 Moore reflected that ‘the group was really too big for them to handle and they had lots of difficulties, in fact they took a whole year to do it, with a great deal of worry over it to me’.20
While the first cast was still being made, Moore chose to have two other copies of the sculpture cast in bronze. Given the problems experienced by Fiorini, Moore decided to have these two examples made by the Rudier Foundry in Paris.21 This foundry had a distinguished reputation, and had cast many bronze sculptures by the French artist Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). At Rudier the two sculptures were cast using the sand casting technique in at least ten sections, which were then reassembled and secured with pins.22

Tate and Family Group

Before they were even finished these two casts were quickly acquired by Moore’s New York dealer, Curt Valentin of the Buchholz Gallery. Valentin bought them for £2,000 each, and soon sold one to the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) for £2,500. In a letter to Moore dated 17 February 1950, Valentin confirmed the MoMA sale and informed Moore that he was writing to Rudier to confirm that the sculpture would be ready for exhibition that autumn.23
It is probable that Moore discussed the possibility of Tate purchasing a cast of Family Group with the gallery’s director, John Rothenstein, in early 1950. In a letter to Rothenstein dated 4 April 1950, Moore wrote,
Here are the photographs of FAMILY GROUP. They are not as good photographs as I’d like them to be, because anyhow plaster is a material not easy to photograph ... I wrote to Curt Valentin + to Alfred Barr [director of MoMA], to know if they had any objections to my doing 4 casts instead of only 3 – I told them I wasn’t dying to make a fourth cast because each cast will have to have a month or more work on it by me after it’s delivered to me by the Bronze Foundry – though of course I would like a cast of it to be available for the Tate Gallery should the Tate Gallery like to consider it. I got the enclosed letter back from Curt Valentin – which looks to me that they all agree to a fourth cast if I press for it – but that Curt Valentin would like to sell his No 3 cast to the Tate (having sold No 2 cast to the Museum of Modern Art).24
Minutes from the meeting of Tate’s Board of Trustees dated 20 April 1950 record that the board provisionally agreed to purchase Family Group for £2000, pending a decision on how many examples would be cast.25 On 25 May Moore wrote to Rothenstein confirming that ‘I have decided to keep to my original intention of only having three casts’, and that he was travelling to Paris the following week to see how Rudier was progressing with the casting. Significantly, in this letter Moore also discussed the price of the sculpture set for Tate. Since Valentin had bought the sculpture for £2000, and Tate had agreed to pay £2000, Moore was aware that his dealer would not make any profit. To secure the sale, Moore wrote,
I have told him [Valentin] that his price to Tate can only be a very little more than £2000, and have suggested to him that it is £2,100. I am sure I can persuade him to be satisfied with half the commission he made on the Museum of Modern Art one, that is by me letting him have the second cast for £1,850 instead of £2,000. Although this means me losing a little, I am only too happy about it, to think that the Tate will be having this Group.26
On 1 June Rothenstein replied to Moore thanking him for arranging the price and sale of Family Group, stating that the trustees will ‘be very much gratified by the prospect of being able to purchase this work for Tate’.27 Just over two weeks later he confirmed that the trustees approved the purchase at their meeting on 15 June 1950. However, sometime between mid-June and early December Moore was approached by the American collector Nelson Rockefeller, who also wished to purchase an example of Family Group. Despite declaring earlier that he wanted to keep the edition to three, it seems that Moore was swayed by the prospect of selling a cast to this important collector, and he telephoned Rothenstein to discuss the matter. In a letter written on 4 December 1950 Rothenstein stated,
Immediately after speaking to you this morning, I rang up the Chairman and informed him of Nelson Rockefeller’s desire to have a fourth bronze of the “Family”, and of your own generous offer to arrange for a deduction of £500 from the price of our bronze, should the Board agree to the raising of the number from three to four. The Chairman willingly agrees and will report his action at the next Meeting.28
The second example of Family Group went on display at MoMA in February 1951, and by 23 February that year Tate’s example had been completed by Rudier, and was ready for shipping back to Moore’s studio.29 The sculpture was delivered to Moore in late March, and on 28 April 1951 Moore wrote to Rothenstein that ‘the cast is really excellent and I am very glad that we had it done in Paris’.30 However, Moore annotated the typed letter with a handwritten addendum, noting, ‘the patina is still being a problem, but I hope to have it more or less alright by this Monday – but if its not, it can still be changed’.31 Moore was working to a deadline as the sculpture was due to be included in his solo exhibition at Tate, which opened on 2 May 1951.32
Tate’s Family Group was included in the 1951 exhibition of Moore’s work, and has regularly been on display ever since. The sculpture was also exhibited in Moore’s major solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1978, organised to mark his eightieth birthday. The exhibition included all Moore’s sculptures held in the Tate collection, including the thirty-six sculptures presented as the Henry Moore Gift. For this occasion Family Group was exhibited in the Duveen Galleries on a plinth opposite Recumbent Figure 1938 (Tate N05387). Held between June and August, the exhibition was attended by over 20,500 people and nearly 11,000 copies of the catalogue were sold.33

Reception and interpretation

Family Group 1948–9 installed at Barclay School, Stevenage
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Michael Furze, Henry Moore Foundation Archive
The first cast of Family Group was installed at the Barclay School in September 1950 (fig.9). The Daily Dispatch reported the installation with the headline ‘“Belsen” statue came in the night’, echoing the opinion of local postman, Robert Lapworth, who thought the figures looked like ‘something from Belsen camp’.34 In May 1951 an unnamed critic for the Times reviewing the current exhibition of Moore’s work at the Leicester Galleries drew special attention to the full-size plaster Family Group, which was included in the show: ‘The “Family Group” consists of two nude figures swinging a baby from one to the other and is certainly a most ingenious system of closed curves to which all the forms are rigidly subjected; it has very much the appearance of an intellectual exercise and one that might be more easily appreciated if carried out on a considerably smaller scale’.35
In 1975 Moore responded to a letter from Evelyn S. Ringold, an American researcher investigating the representation of family life. In his letter Moore outlined the circumstances in which Family Group came to be made, and reflected that by the time the full-size bronze sculpture was cast, his daughter Mary,
was two years old and our family life was very happy indeed. Perhaps the family groups reflect this outlook. I don’t think I had any philosophy of English family life or American family life in mind, though, no doubt, my own childhood would have an influence. I was the seventh child of a family of eight, my childhood was very full and very happy.36
In 2006 the art historian Penelope Curtis suggested that the Family Group series – the drawings, maquettes and full-size bronzes – can be understood as ‘Moore’s own answer to the new ethos in British sculpture after the war, which returned to a much more recognisable human figure, and responded to the new opportunities for public sculpture arising out of state support for the arts within a culture of reconstruction’.37 Despite contemporary accusations that the figures resembled the skeletal survivors of Nazi concentration camps, Curtis asserted that ‘Moore was a generation older than the new wave of British sculptors ... whose style was angular and anxious, and it is likely that Moore’s comparative wholeness accorded better with people who wished to celebrate the arts of peace, rather than those of the cold war’.38
Family Group was initially cast in bronze in an edition of four. The first three casts remain in their original collections, at the Barclay School, Stevenage; Tate, London; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.39 The fourth bronze, formerly in the collection of Nelson Rockefeller, is now in the collection of the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan.40 In addition to these four casts, Moore also cast an artist’s copy at the Rudier Foundry, which is now held in the Norton Simon Art Foundation in Pasadena.41 In 1995, in accordance with the artist’s wishes, the Henry Moore Foundation cast a second artist’s copy at the Morris Singer Foundry, Basingstoke, which remains in the Foundation’s collection.

Alice Correia
March 2014

This catalogue entry was compiled using research undertaken by Robert Sutton, Collaborative Doctoral Award student (University of York and Tate).


Henry Moore cited in John Hedgecoe (ed.), Henry Moore, London 1968, p.177.
Ibid., p.163.
See Alan G. Wilkinson, Henry Moore Remembered: The Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Toronto 1987, p.83.
See Harry Rée, Educator Extraordinary: The Life and Achievement of Henry Morris, London 1973, pp.70–2.
Henry Moore cited in Farewell Night, Welcome Day, television programme, broadcast BBC, 4 January 1963, reprinted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot 2002, p.89.
Henry Moore, letter to Dorothy Miller, 31 January 1951, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.273.
Henry Moore in ‘Henry Moore Talking to David Sylvester’, 7 June 1963, transcript of Third Programme, broadcast BBC Radio, 14 July 1963, Tate Archive TGA 200816, p.13. (An edited version of this interview was published in the Listener, 29 August 1963, pp.305–7.)
Ibid., p.16.
See David Sylvester (ed.), Henry Moore. Volume 1: Complete Sculpture 1921–48, 1957, 5th edn, London 1988, pp.14–15.
Henry Moore, letter to Martin Butlin, 22 January 1963, Tate Artist Catalogue File, Henry Moore, A23941.
Henry Moore, letter to Dorothy Miller, 31 January 1951, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.273.
Ibid., pp.273–4.
Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore, 1987, revised edn, London 2003, p.259.
Ibid., pp.261–2.
Although this plaster working model has been dated to 1945, the revised shape of the father’s head – along with its fabrication in plaster, a material Moore had rarely used prior to the Barclay School commission – suggests that it was actually made in preparation for the full-size sculpture between 1947 and 1948.
Henry Moore, letter to Dorothy Miller, 31 January 1951, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.274.
In September 1994 Meadows recalled that in order to enlarge the plaster to scale he built a measuring frame over the version to be enlarged and another over the model. These frames both had rulers marking lengths in inches so that Meadows could read off a measurement from the smaller ruler and apply it directly to the enlargement. Each measurement referred to a specific point on the surface of the model, which could then be recreated to the correct scale. Using frames and rulers avoided having to make complicated calculations, and ‘was really a very direct thing and could be done in a matter of seconds’. See ‘Interviews with Bernard Meadows’, 22 September 1994, p.24, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
David Mitchinson (ed.), Hoglands: The Home of Henry and Irina Moore, London 2007, p.68.
‘Interviews with Bernard Meadows’, p.45. Numerous photographs at the Henry Moore Foundation show a plaster of Family Group in various stages of development in Moore’s studio, but it is unclear whether these photographs show the original or second plaster.
Henry Moore, letter to Dorothy Miller, 31 January 1951, reprinted in Wilkinson 2002, p.274.
Ibid., p.274.
Sand casting is a technique whereby a model is buried in sand to create a mould from which the bronze can be cast. Sand casting is quicker and less labour-intensive than the lost wax method but is also generally less suitable for reproducing very intricate shapes or surface details.
Curt Valentin, letter to Henry Moore, 17 February 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
Henry Moore, letter to John Rothenstein, 4 April 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
See Minutes of a Meeting of the Board of Trustees, 20 April 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
Henry Moore, letter to John Rothenstein, 25 May 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
John Rothenstein, letter to Henry Moore, 1 June 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
John Rothenstein, letter to Henry Moore, 4 December 1950, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
See Eugène Rudier, letter to Norman Reid, 23 February 1951, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
Henry Moore, letter to John Rothenstein, 28 April 1951, Tate Public Records TG 4/2/742/2.
These figures are based on those listed in a memo in the exhibition’s records. See Tate Public Records TG 92/344/2.
Anon., ‘“Belsen” Statue Came in the Night’, Daily Dispatch, 3 November 1950, cited in Berthoud 2003, p.261.
Anon., ‘Leicester Galleries Mr Henry Moore’, Times, 1 May 1951, p.6.
Henry Moore, letter to Evelyn S. Ringold, 24 February 1975, Henry Moore Foundation Archive.
Penelope Curtis, ‘Family Group 1948–49’, in Mitchinson 2006, p.221.

How to cite

Alice Correia, ‘Family Group 1949, cast 1950–1 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, March 2014, in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity, Tate Research Publication, 2015, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/henry-moore-om-ch-family-group-r1172198, accessed 19 April 2024.