Family Group, by Henry Moore

Barclay School, Walkern Road

By Pauline Maryan

Family Group, by Henry Moore
Pauline Maryan

This bronze cast was unveiled at Barclay School in Walkern Road in 1949, originally the only one of four existing casts on open-air show in Great Britain. However, it has recently been moved indoors to the school’s reception area. It was Moore’s first large-scale commission after the war.

Henry Moore was born in Yorkshire in 1898, the son of a coal miner.  He studied at Leeds and at the Royal College of Art in London, where he taught sculpture from 1924 to 1931, moving on to Chelsea School of Art till 1939.

He travelled widely in Europe, and was an official war artist from 1940 to 1942.  He moved to Perry Green, Much Hadham, in 1940, where he set up the Henry Moore Foundation in 1977 to promote art appreciation and to display his work. He died in 1986.

The first cast of this family group was made for the Barclay Secondary School at Stevenage, under the scheme brought in by the Hertfordshire County Council for spending a fraction of one per cent of the building estimates on pictures and sculptures for its new schools. (The scheme unfortunately has since been dropped.) The architect wanted a free-standing group out of doors, and had a position ready for it in his plans. I went out to Stevenage while the school was under construction and tried out a rough life-size silhouette made in cardboard of the Family Group just for its scale. It was to be in front of a curved baffle-wall about 20ft. long by about 8ft. high, on the left of the main entrance, but the space between the baffle-wall and the drive way is limited, and the space between the sculpture and the baffle-wall is not great enough to tempt one to go round to the back of the sculpture. I realise that from the architect’s point of view the position he had decided upon was the proper one. For the baffle-wall played a part in the architecture – it masked an awkward junction of the building – and without the sculpture in front of it, it might have seemed unjustifiable. The fact remains that it is a position that does not allow the Family Group to be, in the full sense of the term, free-standing. We stood it as far away from the wall as possible, but one can only see it from limited number of views, one cannot get those sudden revelations that occur when one comes upon a sculpture from an unexpected angle. In such circumstances architects might consider the use of a turn-table, not to keep the statue slowly turning – that would be a horrible idea – but to present another view of it every month or so. And if the sculptor knows that his work is going to be seen all round, it is a further impetus to sculpt all round.

Henry Moore quoted in Sculpture in the Open Air: A Talk by Henry Moore on his Sculpture and its Placing in Open-Air Sites, edited by Robert Melville and recorded by the British Council 1955: typescript; copy in HMF library

This page was added on 10/02/2011.

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  • The artist Claire Parrish has written in the journal of the London Group about this sculpture and how she first came across it by chance, visiting Barclay’s to give a talk for the BBC and of returning this year, 25 years later, to revisit and photograph the piece. Her article contains many interesting details about its commissioning and production.

    (With thanks to MIC)

    By Tony Collman (21/11/2022)
  • As I was there at the time in 1950 I wondered if there were any pictures from the opening day

    By Mavis Bourdice (18/06/2019)