Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
Two Mothers Holding Children, another of the drawings from the series showing people sheltering from the German air raids on London, explores one of the most recurrent themes in Henry Moore’s entire output: motherhood. Following his first Mother and Child of 1924‒25, a large stone sculpture, this motif became an obsession for the artist. The plasticity of the group in this small work on paper, formed by two mothers cradling their children on their laps, protecting them with their mantles, and the organic sinuosity of the forms, are fully consonant with his sculptures. The relationship between inside and outside, another of Moore’s constant formal concerns, makes these shelter drawings the immediate antecedents of the sculpture of the Madonna and child he crafted for Saint Matthew’s church in Northampton in 1944.
In this image of protection and helplessness, the skull-like faces, especially that of the figure on the right, are, as John Russell has pointed out, an allegory of suffering humanity, and the hollows formed by the drapes act as a metaphor of the womb. In this connection Erich Neumann considered that these visionary drawings provided Moore, an artist who devoted his full creative energy to the human figure, with “a unique opportunity to see his inner image of the archetype of the feminine as the sheltering cave in the earth.”
The mixed media drawing is done in ink, wax crayon and watercolour, which Moore had began to use shortly before the outbreak of war. As the artist stated, “experimentation with wax crayons and watercolour shows you a lot of possibilities with this technique.”