Hadene Stone. Carving – Height 170cm 1956
Town Hall, Civic Centre, Water Gardens 2004
Sir Philip Hendy, Chairman of the Trust and then Director of the National Gallery, was a valuable contact with the art world and was instrumental in securing what was to be the most important commission of all – Henry Moore’s Harlow Family Group.
Moore was known to several of the Trustees and the idea of approaching him about a possible commission was mooted at the third meeting of the Trust in February 1954. Hendy agreed to ask him. Moore accepted the commission with enthusiasm and suggested making a group ‘conceived on human and classical lines’ for a site near St Mary-at-Latton Church – a location which the artist knew well as he lived near Harlow in Perry Green. It was certainly a coup for Harlow but it was also a landmark for Moore as an early public commission for an outdoor site.
Harlow Family Group in its original location by St Mary’s at Latton in the 1950s. Photo: Kim Etheridge
Family Group was unveiled on the 17th of May 1956 by the Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Sir Kenneth Clark, who congratulated Harlow ‘on behalf of all those who believed in civilization – for maintaining the great tradition of urban civilization in making a work of art a focal centre of a new town.’ For many people, this sculpture symbolised the universal aspirations of the postwar generation and, as a reviewer for The Times noted, it was quickly adopted by the residents of Harlow: . . . within an hour of its unveiling, the Family had already entered into the life of Harlow. Small boys were getting up on the pedestal, clambering over the woman and taking occupation of the empty place in the man’s lap. At one moment, indeed, the family of three had expanded to one of seven.
The theme of the family could not have been more appropriate. Known as ‘pram town’ in the 1950s, Harlow had a birthrate which was three times the national average. Undoubtedly, Harlow Family Group provided a readymade and fitting emblem for Harlow and its image was used to illustrate anything to do with the New Town. The Harlow Family Group was moved outside the Civic Centre in the mid 60’s as the baby’s head had been removed by vandals and the Trust were concerned about further vandalism. By the early 70’s the Trust were concerned about the general poor condition of the work caused through natural wear and tear. Despite the Trust’s preference for a warmer stone, Moore went ahead with his carving in pale Hadene stone. Its new location outside of the Civic Centre was known as the High (as it is the highest point in Harlow) so it’s very windy, you can see the damage caused by weathering.
Outside the Civic Centre 1979. Photo: Jamie Fowler
There was much discussion over moving it inside suggested locations included the Playhouse Foyer and the Harvey Centre. In 1988 the baby’s head was removed for a second time but this time it had been stolen, a reward went out and it was recovered. It was a practical joke by students, on its recovery it was decided that the sculpture would be put into storage and was lent to the Henry Moore foundation. It remained with the foundation until 2004 when it was returned to Harlow In its present place on the enclose platform in the Civic Centre. During its time with the Foundation it had quite a few excursions to major galleries, and has been exhibited in China, USA, and South America. The work will continue to be loaned. Fortunately for us (unfortunately depending how you look at it) Harlow Family Group is an important work, and its importance grows as it ages. While on loan to the Imperial War Museum a reclining figure by Moore was substituted from Perrry Green HMF. See Images below
Reclining future on loan while Harlow Family Group was on tour. Photo: Lin Hinton
The fate of the Harlow Family Group is systemic of any important collection. As the collection ages, individual sculptures become more and more valuable, the emphasis of the Trust has shifted from being commissioner of young and emerging artists to guardian of Harlow’s sculptural heritage. Nearly all the Trust’s effort and energies go into the conservation, protection and education of the existing collection.
Friends visited the FG when it was part of the Families at War Exhibition at IWM – HM was a war artist, FG drawing in the Imperial War Museum The origins of the FG were in the War Torn London in the 1940’s More walked to his studio daily witnessing Bomb damaged homes (as well as recording the Tubes used as shelters) One day he passed a house with the front torn away and the small family Group sitting on a wall outside – he made a drawing of them and later a small maquette which Sir Fred G had seen in HM’s studio at Perry Green and encouraged HM to submit to the HAT.
For purchase and commissioning see HAT meetings in the Harlow Art Trust page.
See also Upright motif No 2