Henry Moore Mother & Child Fetches World Auction Record
11.30.2005 LONDON, ENGLAND.
Henry Moore, Mother and Child, verde di Prato. 22.3 cm. (8 3/4 in.) high (including base). Executed in 1931.
In a jam-packed Bonhams saleroom in New Bond Street, the most important sculpture by Henry Moore to appear at auction in recent years sold for £1, 069,600 (with premium) after intense bidding today. It sold in the room to a private collector and smashed the world auction record for a unique carving by Henry Moore. Mother and Child, 1931, described by Moore himself as “one of my best earlier pieces” was purchased soon after Henry Moore’s exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in the same year, for just £18–18 shillings. Also in the sale, a reclining figure by Henry Moore sold for over double its estimate in the room at £308,000. Henry Moore’s Mother & Child, 1931 is the most expensive 20th century work of art to be sold in London this year. The entire sale achieved just over 3 million.
Bonhams’ Head of Modern British Art, Matthew Bradbury said, “It is an immense privilege to have sold this beautiful Mother & Child sculpture. The enormous price reflects the quality of the work. It stands head and shoulders above any other carving by Moore and has smashed a world record for hand carved object by ¾ million.”
Mother & Child is beautifully carved in 1931 using the finest marble, verde di prato. At just 8 ¾ inches in height, it is a work whose small size is in inverse proportion to its extraordinary presence as a work of art. The piece represents a visual climax in the early career of Moore. Moore won a scholarship to Italy in 1925 and it is said that while in Florence, he spent every morning at the Brancacci Chapel drawing inspiration from Masaccio’s statuesque figures - an influence that can certainly be seen in the present work.
Mother and Child, 1931 is a work of seminal importance and its provenance is as distinguished as its artistic quality and rarity – formerly being in the collection of V&A director, Sir Eric MacLagan K.C.V.O. Sir Eric was one of the most distinguished figures in the international art world between the first and second World Wars; a man who combined the roles of scholar, curator and collector to a rare degree. He was also one of the first collectors to buy the work of Henry Moore.
Sir Eric MacLagan extended well beyond the confines of his specialization in the field of Early Christian and Renaissance studies. Breaking stereotypes, he sported an intriguing and certainly pioneering side to his passions – a love of Modern Art. As one of the first private collectors to buy the work of Henry Moore, he meticulously documented the purchase in his household personal accounts, neatly handwritten on a sheet of paper. The single entry reads November ’31 H. Moore statuette 18.18.0.
Amusingly, the sculpture entry sits beside other purchase entries, including a beige stair carpet, a sewing machine and a refrigerator. In such prosaic surroundings, this is the first and only record of sale for this pre-eminent work of 20th Century British Art.
In 1946 Moore wrote to Sir Eric to encourage him to lend the statue to an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; “I do hope you will be able to lend it. I know it will be away rather a long time, but I always look upon it as one of my best earlier pieces, and it will help to make the exhibition more complete than it would be without it.” Sir Eric agreed.
Moore, in the same letter, reinforces his fondness of this sculpture; “Thank you for agreeing to let me have it photographed as the Modern Museum of Art wanted a photograph of it specially and I have always wanted a photograph of it myself.”
Moore was a sculptor with few themes, but a multitude of resonance. The motif of mother and child, along with the reclining figure, was one that obsessed and intrigued Moore throughout his life. Intrigued by the organic and natural, Moore was ultimately bewitched by the human figure, and his sculptural quest into human form was both mystical and spiritual. He strove to depict the inner essence of his subject and presence, or, as he put it, ‘vitality’.
“Sculpture, for me, must have life in it, vitality. It must have a feeling for organic form, a certain pathos and warmth. A sculpture must have its own life and form,” he said.
Here, he is demonstrably an artist in supreme control, able to deliver the most intense and gratifying aesthetic experience, imbued with an intellectual and spiritual depth that is unparalleled in other examples of the same motif at that time. Mother and child, 1931 is a unique and individual statement.
The sculpture was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Chicago, and San Francisco and the last time it was ever seen in public was at The Arts Council of Great Britain of 1967.