Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity

ISBN 978-1-84976-391-2

Henry Moore OM, CH Maquette for Madonna and Child 1943, cast 1944-5

This small bronze sculpture is one of twelve maquettes for a Madonna and Child that Henry Moore was commissioned to make in 1943 for St Matthew’s Church in Northampton. This particular design, which was originally made in clay, was not the one selected to be scaled up for the final sculpture, but it was later cast in bronze along with five of the other maquettes.
Henry Moore OM, CH 1898–1986
Maquette for Madonna and Child
1943, cast 1944–5
145 x 55 x 65 mm
Inscribed ‘Moore’ on rear of seat
Purchased from the artist through the Berkeley Galleries (Knapping Fund) 1945
In an edition of at least 7


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
Detail of patina on Maquette for Madonna and Child 1943, cast 1944–5
Tate N05601
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Henry Moore 'Madonna and Child' 1943–4
Henry Moore
Madonna and Child 1943–4
Church of St Matthew, Northampton
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore Foundation Archive

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

The commission came about after the vicar of St Matthew’s, the Reverend Walter Hussey, saw a number of Moore’s Shelter Drawings in an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, in the autumn of 1942. The exhibition had been organised by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC), a governmental body set up under the auspices of the Ministry of Information to boost British morale during wartime by commissioning images of British endurance from recognised artists. In 1940, having been forced to give up sculpture due to a lack of available materials, Moore produced a series of drawings of women and children sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz, which he showed to Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery and Chairman of the WAAC, who invited him to become an Official War Artist.
Although some visitors to the National Gallery found that Moore’s Shelter Drawings did not accurately convey the reality of their wartime experiences, on his return to Northampton, Hussey signalled his admiration for the work to Harold Williamson, Director of the Chelsea School of Art, which had been relocated to Northampton in 1941 to escape the bombing in London.2 As Hussey recalled in his memoirs, ‘I remember shaking my finger at him and saying: “That is the sort of man who ought to be working for the Church – his work has the dignity and force that is desperately needed today”’.3 Moore had taught sculpture at the Chelsea School of Art since 1933 and so was well known to Williamson, who arranged for the two to meet the following week when Moore was visiting Northampton. It was then that Hussey proposed the commission to Moore: ‘I asked him whether he thought he would be interested in the project; he replied that he would, though whether it could go further, whether he could and would want to do it, he just couldn’t say at present’. Hussey also asked Moore if he felt able to believe in the commission, to which the artist responded ‘Yes, I would. Though whether or not I should agree with your theology, I just do not know. I think it is only through our art that we artists can come to understand your theology’.4 Moore’s attitude to Christianity was ambivalent; he stated in 1973 that ‘although I was baptised and made to go to church as a boy, I am not a practicing Christian’.5
In early December 1942 Hussey wrote to Moore enquiring whether he had considered the scheme any further. Hussey was at pains to express his desire for Moore to undertake the commission while also respecting the sensibilities of both the artist and the congregation of St Matthew’s. A sculpture that offended the ‘religious susceptibilities’ of the congregation was to be avoided, but he was also anxious that Moore should not have to compromise his artistic integrity.6 Moore replied on 6 March 1943, stating, ‘I’ve not forgotten the scheme and I’m very keen to begin thinking seriously about it and I think that in a couple of weeks’ time I shall get the chance to begin playing about making note-book sketches to get ideas for it’.7 On 29 April Moore wrote to Hussey confirming that he had at last ‘begun notebook sketches for it’.8
Henry Moore 'Madonna and Child Studies' 1943
Henry Moore
Madonna and Child Studies 1943
Private collection
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Between April and June 1943 Moore created what is now identified as the Madonna and Child Sketchbook, and it is from these sketches that he modelled twelve clay maquettes between June and July. Each of the three-dimensional maquettes appear to have been drawn to varying extents.9 Among the sketches Moore produced at this time, the closest immediate precedent for this Maquette for Madonna and Child can be found on the upper part of a single page on which three representations of the Madonna and Child were drawn (fig.3). In the top left corner is a sketch that is seemingly incomplete; the lower portion of the Madonna is suggested by only a few lines, but parts of her upper body, and in particular her raised right arm and elbow, have been considered in greater detail. Moore would have drawn this sketch in pencil and then filled in areas with wax crayon before applying a dark watercolour over the top. This technique has meant that the child, rendered in wax, appears to have a halo drawn in pencil around his head. The sketch in the top right corner of the page presents a seated mother with her feet planted firmly on the ground wearing a draped skirt rippling between her knees while the child stands on her left thigh. Tate’s Maquette for Madonna and Child features characteristics from both drawings, suggesting that the sculpture is a composite of the two.
Photograph of six terracotta maquettes for Madonna and Child 1943
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
Photo: Henry Moore
Perhaps because the work was commissioned, rather than conceived by himself, Moore produced twelve different clay maquettes presenting the Madonna and Child in different poses (fig.4).10 These models are some of the earliest examples of Moore’s preparatory experiments using clay. The critic David Sylvester argued in 1948 that modelling in clay helped Moore ‘grasp the tactile as well as the visual plasticity of forms because he could reconstruct them with his hands and thus attain a profounder sense of their volume’.11 The properties of clay enabled Moore to model his works with greater spontaneity and freedom, making it easier to transform an idea conceived on paper into a three-dimensional form. On 23 June 1943 Moore wrote to Hussey stating:
I was able to begin 4 or 5 days ago, translating some of the small note-book drawings I’d made, into small clay models and I’ve now got 4 clay models (each about 4” high) on the go. I don’t know yet what I think of these, and shan’t until each one has had a few more hours spent on it. But anyhow there are 4 or 5 small drawings in the note-book which I want to try out in solid forms in clay too, so it’s going to be another 2 or 3 weeks, I’m afraid.12
When seen together, the maquettes reveal how Moore experimented with the position and size of the Christ child and the pose of the Madonna, and testify to Moore’s growing interest in drapery. Moore later acknowledged that the folds of the mother’s dress in the maquettes were directly informed by his Shelter Drawings: ‘I had never used drapery in sculpture prior to making the shelter drawings. Then I saw sculptural form in the folds of the material and employed it’.13 The fact that Moore knew where the final sculpture was to be positioned in St Matthew’s Church also informed how he modelled the figures. The allocated site was against a wall, and as such Moore paid little attention to the backs of his maquettes. In his discussion of the commission, the art critic Herbert Read noted that the final sculpture had to confirm to what he called ‘the law of frontality’, by which Moore had to convey mass and volume without ‘an all round perambulation’.14
Of the twelve maquettes produced in clay five were selected by Moore to show to Hussey on 23 July 1943. This maquette was one of the five selected, and although it was not Moore’s preferred design for the final sculpture, he informed Hussey that he would ‘be prepared to base the finished statue’ on any one of the five.15 The production of multiple models provided Hussey not only with an element of choice but also a clearer idea of what the finished work might look like. After viewing the five proposed maquettes in London, Hussey took them back to Northampton to show members of St Matthew’s Parochial Church Council, who selected the sculpture to be commissioned. This Maquette for Madonna and Child was not chosen as the design for the final sculpture, which Moore carved throughout the latter half of 1943 and early 1944, and which was dedicated in St Matthew’s Church on Saturday 19 February 1944.

From clay to bronze

In Moore’s catalogue raisonné the clay studies for Madonna and Child are described as being made in terracotta.16 In 1963 Moore addressed any misunderstanding, explaining that ‘the original maquettes of the MADONNA AND CHILD ... sculptures were all modelled direct in clay and then baked, and so became terra-cottas. It was from these terra-cottas that the small bronzes were cast’.17 Moore’s catalogue raisonné also indicates that six of Moore’s preliminary terracotta maquettes were cast in bronze editions. This Maquette for Madonna and Child was cast at the Art Bronze Foundry in London. Notes made by Moore for the owner of the foundry, dated ‘March 28’, identify five Madonna and Child maquettes for casting, along with three maquettes for Moore’s Family Group, which date from 1944–518. The inclusion of Maquette for Family Group 1945 (Tate N05606) as the seventh sculpture on this list suggests that Moore made these casting notes in 1945. This Maquette for Madonna and Child is numbered four on the list, and a small sketch of the sculpture is annotated with the phrase ‘child standing on mother’s thigh’. The notes indicate that two examples of this particular maquette had been cast and delivered to an unnamed gallery. It is likely that the gallery mentioned in the note was the Berkeley Galleries, London, where Moore had an exhibition in March–April 1945, and from which Tate acquired its cast. There is some uncertainty as to whether the unnumbered bronze maquettes were cast in editions of five or seven due to discrepancies between the foundry paperwork and Moore’s catalogue records held at the Henry Moore Foundation.19 It was not until some years after the Second World War that Moore began to efficiently maintain his financial and business paperwork, and although it is believed that at least seven bronze examples were cast, the exact size of the edition is unknown.
In an article published in the Burlington Magazine in July 1948, Sylvester, who had worked as Moore’s personal assistant in 1945, noted that ‘Moore had always made maquettes for his larger sculptures, but it was not until he cast about half-a-dozen of the ten or so clay studies for the Northampton Madonna that he began to make bronzes of them’.20 The bronzes were produced to be sold privately, and probably helped off-set the cost of the commission. Moore’s turn to making multiple bronze casts drastically altered the type of work he was able to produce, and provided more opportunities to sell his work.

Sources and development

Henry Moore 'Mother and Child' 1932
Henry Moore
Mother and Child 1932
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art, Norwich
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved
During the 1930s Moore carved several stone sculptures representing a mother with a child. At this particular time Moore was less concerned with depicting human bodies naturalistically than he was with sculpting essentialised bodily forms. For example, in Mother and Child 1932 (fig.5) the mother’s head is disproportionately small when compared to her enormous left shoulder and large paddle-like feet. Reflecting on his later Madonna and Child sculptures in relation to these earlier works, Moore explained in 1945 that ‘this group was intended to have a religious interest, quite different from secular sculpture. It could not be too abstract or it would have forgone the traditional deep meaning of the subject’.21 On 26 August 1943 Moore wrote to Hussey, reflecting on the differences between representations of a mother and a Madonna, stating:
I began thinking of the ‘Madonna and Child’ for St Matthew’s by considering in what ways a Madonna and Child differs from a carving of just a ‘Mother and Child’ – that is by considering how in my opinion religious art differs from secular art. It’s not easy to describe in words what this difference is, except by saying in general terms that the ‘Madonna and Child’ should have an austerity and a nobility and some touch of grandeur (even hieratic aloofness), which is missing in the ‘everyday’ Mother and Child idea.22
To create his Mother and Child sculpture in 1932 Moore had used the technique of direct carving, which involved working directly on the stone without reference to a model or preparatory sketches. In the early 1930s Moore and other contemporary sculptors, including Barbara Hepworth and John Skeaping, believed that by working directly on the stone, and in response to its particular physical properties, a sculptor could create a work of art that had more authenticity than one that eschewed the true qualities of its material. Moore later recalled that he ‘liked the different mental approach involved’ in direct carving, ‘that you begin with the block and have to find the sculpture that’s inside it’.23 By making small clay maquettes of the Madonna and Child prior to making the full-size stone carving, Moore therefore departed from this pre-war working method.
Domenico Rosselli 'Virgin and Child' 1450–98
Domenico Rosselli
Virgin and Child 1450–98
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
In 1968 the art critic John Russell suggested that Moore’s maquettes could be seen as a negotiation ‘between his previous practice and his recollections of Florentine sculpture’.24 Moore had studied examples of fifteenth-century Italian sculpture while he was a student at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London in the early 1920s, during which time he carved a copy of the Virgin’s head from Domenico Rosselli’s relief sculpture Virgin and Child 1450–98 (fig.6).25 On graduating from the RCA in 1924 Moore was awarded a six-month travel grant intended to facilitate the study of the arts of Renaissance Italy. Although he wanted to spend all of his time in Paris, Moore nonetheless travelled throughout Italy during the first part of 1925 and was impressed by the wall paintings of Giotto, Orcagna, Lorenzetti, Taddeo Gaddi and Masaccio. However, in 1947 he recalled that,
Six months’ exposure to the masterworks of European art which I saw on my trip had stirred up a violent conflict with my previous ideals. I couldn’t seem to shake off the new impressions, or make use of them without denying all I had devoutly believed in before. I found myself helpless and unable to work ... Still the effects of that trip never really faded. But until my Shelter Drawings during the war I never seemed to feel free to use what I learned on that trip to Italy in my art – to mix the Mediterranean approach comfortably with my interest in the more elementary concept of archaic and primitive peoples.26
By depicting drapery and evoking the postures and poses of historical examples of the Madonna and Child, Moore found that it was possible to draw upon the idealised representations of Renaissance art without compromising his own ‘elementary’ figurative style. In 2003 the art historian Margaret Garlake proposed that Moore’s turn to figuration with the Shelter Drawings and the Northampton commission ‘encouraged him to acknowledge that a more easily read figurative art was capable of being both radical and popular’.27

Moore and the Tate collection

This maquette was one of four bronze studies for the Northampton Madonna and Child bought by Tate in 1945 and was thus one of the earliest works by Moore to be purchased for the Tate collection. The purchase of these works illustrated the desire of the director Sir John Rothenstein to represent Moore’s work in the collection. In contrast, Rothenstein’s predecessor, J.B. Manson, had previously told the Tate trustee Robert Sainsbury ‘over my dead body will Henry Moore ever enter the Tate’.28 Rothenstein’s appointment thus signalled a shift in the direction of Tate’s ambitions. One of his first actions as director had been to accept the donation from the Contemporary Art Society of Moore’s Recumbent Figure 1938 (Tate N05387). Then in 1941 Rothenstein encouraged the appointment of Moore to Tate’s Board of Trustees.
In 1944 Rothenstein wrote to Moore asking whether Tate could commission another full-size Madonna and Child based on the existing maquettes. Moore politely turned down the suggestion, writing ‘its now more than a year since these little figure studies were done, + that’s whats [sic] making me hesitate now over your suggestion – for it would mean putting my mind back in working to a year ago’.29 Instead, Moore suggested that the Tate might be interested in some of the studies for a ‘Family Group’ he had recently begun working on. This proposal was accepted and Tate bought four maquettes for the Madonna and Child and three maquettes for the Family Group. Three of the Madonna and Child maquettes were bought at the relatively affordable price of twenty-five guineas each, while the maquette from which the final full-size version had been scaled up (Tate N05602) cost thirty guineas.30
The four maquettes for Madonna and Child were purchased from the artist through the Berkeley Galleries in early 1945 with money from the Knapping Fund.31 The Knapping Fund was the residuary estate of Miss Helen Knapping bequeathed to the Trustees of the National Gallery in 1935 to be spent on work by living or recently deceased British artists. A fraction of this money was allocated to the Tate by the National Gallery, as Tate’s purchasing power continued to rely on charitable donations and private patronage until well after the Second World War.
All four of Tate’s Madonna and Child maquettes were exhibited in Moore’s solo exhibition at the British Pavilion at the 1948 Venice Biennale, at which Moore won the International Sculpture Prize, cementing his position as Britain’s ‘greatest living sculptor’.
Another cast of this maquette can be found in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is known that at least two casts are also held in private collections.

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.

How to cite

Robert Sutton, ‘Maquette for Madonna and Child 1943, cast 1944–5 by Henry Moore OM, CH’, catalogue entry, December 2012, revised by Alice Correia, 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-maquette-for-madonna-and-child-r1147466, accessed 16 May 2022.