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Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (4 October 1891 – 5 June 1915)[1] was a French sculptor who developed a rough hewn, primitive style of direct carving.

Henri Gaudier was born in Saint-Jean-de-Braye near Orléans. In 1910 he moved to London to become an artist, even though he had no formal training. With him came Sophie Brzeska,[2] a Polish writer over twice his age whom he had met at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, and with whom he began an intense symbiotic relationship, annexing her surname although they never married. (According to Jim Ede the linking of their names was never more than a personal arrangement) During this time his conflicting attitudes towards art are exemplified in what he wrote to Dr. Uhlmayr, with whom he had lived the previous year:[1]
“ When I face the beauty of nature, I am no longer sensitive to art, but in the town I appreciate its myriad benefits—the more I go into the woods and the fields the more distrustful I become of art and wish all civilization to the devil; the more I wander about amidst filth and sweat the better I understand art and love it; the desire for it becomes my crying need. ”

He resolved these reservations by taking up sculpture, having been inspired by his carpenter father. Once in England Gaudier-Brzeska fell in with the Vorticism movement of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, becoming a founding member of the London Group. After coming under the influence of Jacob Epstein in 1912, he began to believe that sculpture should leave behind the highly finished, polished style of ancient Greece and embrace a more earthy direct carving, in which the tool marks are left visible on the final work as a fingerprint of the artist. Abandoning his early fascination for Auguste Rodin, he began to study instead extra-European artworks located in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. As he was unable to afford the raw materials necessary to attempt projects on the scale of Epstein's Indian and Assyrian influenced pieces, he concentrated initially on miniaturist sculpture genres such as Japanese Netsuke before developing an interest in work from West Africa and the Pacific Islands.[3]

In 1913 he assisted with the illustrations of Haldane Macfall's book The Splendid Wayfaring along with Claud Lovat Fraser and Edward Gordon Craig.

Gaudier-Brzeska's drawing style was influenced by the Chinese calligraphy and poetry which he discovered at the "Ezuversity", Ezra Pound's unofficial locus of teaching. Pound's interaction with Ernest Fenollosa's work on the Chinese brought the young sculptor to the galleries of Eastern art, where he studied the ideogram and applied it to his art. Gaudier-Brzeska had the ability to imply, with a few deft strokes, the being of a subject. His drawings also show the influence of Cubism.

At the start of the First World War, Gaudier-Brzeska enlisted with the French army. He appears to have fought with little regard for his own safety, receiving a decoration for bravery before being killed in the trenches at Neuville-St.-Vaast.

Following his death Sophie Brzeska became distraught, eventually dying in an asylum in 1925. Jim Ede bought a sizeable portion of Gaudier-Brzeska's work from Sophie Brzeska's estate including numerous letters sent between Henri and Sophie. Ede used these as the basis for his book Savage Messiah on life and work of Gaudier-Brzeska, which in turn became the basis of Ken Russell's film of the same name.

Despite the fact that he had only four years to develop his art, Gaudier-Brzeska has had a surprisingly strong influence on 20th-century modernist sculpture in England and France. His work can be seen at the Tate Gallery, Kettle's Yard, the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris and the Musée des Beaux Arts Orléans. The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University held an exhibition entitled The Vorticists: Rebel Artists in London and New York, 1914-18 from September 30, 2010 through January 2, 2011, which includes his work.[4]


1. ^ a b Ede, H.S. (1931). Savage Messiah. London: Heinemann. OCLC 1655358.
2. ^ Sophie Retrieved October, 20, 2010
3. ^ Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard (2010). Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African, and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde. Oxford University Press. passim. ISBN 978-0-19-959369-9
4. ^ Nasher Museum Retrieved September 17, 2010


* Pound, Ezra, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (London: John Lane, 1916; rpt. New York: New Directions, 1970 ISBN 0-8112-0527-4)—memoir of Pound's time with Gaudier-Brzeska, including letters and photos of sculpture
* "We the Moderns": Gaudier-Brzeska and the Birth of Modern Sculpture (Cambridge: Kettle's Yard, 2007 ISBN 1-904561-22-5)—catalogue of an exhibition of the same name

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