Shelter Drawing: Seated Mother and Child signed 'Moore' (lower right) pencil, crayon, watercolour, pastel, pen and ink and gouache 36 x 27.7 cm. (14 1/4 x 10 3/4 in.) Executed in 1941 HMF 1861a
PROVENANCE: Acquired by the family of the present owner, 1950s Thence by descent
LITERATURE: Chris Stephens (Ed.), Henry Moore, Tate Publishing, London, 2010, cat.no.103, p.171, (col.ill)
EXHIBITED: Spain, Barcelona, Fundació "la Caixa", Henry Moore, 18 July 15 October 2006 London, Tate Britain, Henry Moore, 24 February - 8 August 2010; this exhibition travelled to Leeds, Leeds Art Gallery, 4 March - 12 June 2011
Exhibited alongside the Tate's own Henry Moore shelter drawing, Woman Seated in the Underground (see fig.1) executed in 1941, at their large and ambitious exhibition at Tate Britain (24 February - 8 August 2010), Shelter Drawing: Seated Mother and Child (the present lot) is a stunning and technically accomplished depiction of the life of London civilians during World War II. It has never previously been offered for sale at auction and remained undetected until 2005. Commenting on the recent show at Tate Britain, which covered all the decades of the artist's long and illustrious career, The Observer singled out the captivating works on paper room, made by Moore during the Blitz for particular praise:
'The momentous works in this show are - as anyone might expect - the drawings of sleepers sheltering in underground stations during wartime air raids: their bodies, heads and arms united in the undulating rhythms of Moore's pencil, ink and crayon. People as fragile monuments of endurance. When he adds chalk, there is a powerful sense of fog and dust, of gloom stretching away in sepulchral tunnels.
All the grand claims about archetypes, about humanity essentialised in beautiful organic forms: all are justified by the drawings of sleepers ...' (Laura Cumming, The Observer, Henry Moore at Tate Britain Review, February 2010)
During the summer of 1940 Moore moved back to London from Kent. It was widely accepted that the Garden of England would be the point of entry for any ground invasion by the Nazi's, making this particular county a high risk area to live. He installed himself in the vacant studio of Ben Nicholson (who had left London for Cornwall) at 7 Mall Studios in Hampstead. Having seen active service in World War I at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, World War II was an event Moore could relate to extremely well and which provoked passionate feelings in him. His thoughts are recorded in a letter to Kenneth Clark from 1939:
'before long the war atmosphere might get closer and so intense that to keep the state of mind for working won't be possible, & so there'd be nothing for it but to seek actively a way of taking part in it. For I hate intensely all that Fascism and Nazism stands for, & if it should win it might be the end in Europe of all the paint, sculpture, music, architecture, literature we believe in.' (Julian Andrews, London's War, The Shelter Drawings of Henry Moore, Lund Humphries, 2002, p.18)
Civilian defences for the working-classes in London at the beginning of the Blitz in August 1940 were far from ideal. There were no government initiatives to construct deep underground shelters, possibly because of the time scale involved in this undertaking. The majority of ordinary people therefore found themselves having to improvise in their own homes with the Morrison Shelter, a type of metal-framed table, which an individual could protect themselves underneath from falling debris. Inevitably, when the bombing became intense in the autumn of 1940, the London underground system with its deep network of tunnels and platforms were seen as a safe shelter from the falling bombs. Although the government were keen for the underground to remain free of shelterers, fearing a downturn in industrial output, the deepest stations became temporary homes for many people.
Moore stumbled across them, somewhat by chance, soon after the Luftwaffe's first intense onslaught began on 7 September 1940. After an evening out in the West End he and his wife returned to their Hampstead home by tube and alighted at Belsize Park where they were confronted by what was clearly a remarkable sight:
'When we got to Belsize Park we weren't allowed out of the station for an hour because of the bombing. I spent the time looking at the rows of people sleeping on the platforms. I had never seen so many reclining figures, and even the train tunnels seemed to be like the holes in my sculpture. Amid the grim tension, I noticed groups of strangers formed together into intimate groups and children asleep within feet of the passing trains.' (Henry Moore, quoted in The Life of Henry Moore, by Roger Berthoud, Giles de la Mare Publishers, London, 2003, p.191)
As 1941 wore on the air raids became more sporadic but just as intense. The War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC), chaired by Moore's champion Kenneth Clarke, invited Moore to present a series of works depicting civil defences of his choice and supplied him with a sketching permit to give him free reign of the shelters. Whilst he was living in Hampstead it would have been little effort for Moore to wander through the various locations, but, in October 1940, Mall Studios suffered bomb damage and he was forced to move out to 'Hoglands', situated in Perry Green, Hertfordshire. From here, he visited London two or three times a week observing the scenes in the underground and recording the people who occupied them.
Shelter Drawing: Seated Mother and Child, features the same composition as Tate's shelter drawing. The swirling tunnel recedes towards the upper right of the image, whilst the figure is seated on the same bench in the foreground. The main difference between the two works being the introduction of the infant seated on its mother's lap, cared for by a gently caressing hand and a small bowl of food. The Mother and Child theme is introduced very early on in Moore's oeuvre, primarily with his sculpture, where the baby is rendered in different positions and with varying amounts of contact with its mother. Among the finest of these is Mother and Child (see fig.2), executed in 1931 in the exquisite Italian stone, verde di Prato (sold in these rooms on 29 November, 2005 for £1,069,000) and also exhibited at Tate Britain's Moore exhibition last year (cat.no.33). Often with this theme there is no direct eye contact with the mother and child, instead the empathy is conveyed by the enveloping arms or touching of hands.
Intricately and highly worked with pen and ink and a variety of other media the present work is an important document of how the British public pulled together during the Blitz. The present owners' father worked in the 1950s printing exhibition catalogues and posters for the Arts Council, where it is believed he met Henry Moore. He also produced promotional literature for the Festival of Britain in 1951.