Have recently been to the excellent exhibition of Henry Moore outdoor works at Kew Gardens, and was struck by the preponderance of the Mother and Child in his work. He described it as one of his ‘inexhaustible subjects’ and there are two examples on show at Kew, both from the 1980s, and splendidly documented in the catalogue. I was reminded of his most explicit piece of religious art, the ‘Madonna and Child’ for Walter Hussey at St. Matthew’s Northampton (1943-4) and a later piece for the church at Claydon in Suffolk.
My thoughts have come to this interaction between ‘secular’ mother-and-child figures and Christianised representations of Christ and Mary whilst preparing an article on war memorials after 1945. Jay Winter usefully pointed out the use of the mother weeping over a fallen (adult) son in memorials after 1918, and the Claydon figure was explicitly glossed at the time (by Hussey) as being a memorial figure. There is also an Epstein mother and son figure, made for the TUC Congress House HQ in London.
Part of my ongoing project on memorials ought probably to look for other examples, as perhaps the very ambiguity of the mother/Madonna relationship made it the most accessible of all the ‘big’ Christian themes for an artist on the fringes of the church to take up. As Moore put it (to Hussey): ‘I think it is only through our art that we artists can come to understand your theology.’ (Hussey, Patron of Art p.24.)
Should anyone be interested, the war memorials article should appear next year in the Forum for Modern Language Studies. Some of Moore’s own thoughts on the difference between a religious and secular mother and child were printed in Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore. Writings and Conversations 213, 267-8
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