HENRI GAUDIER-BRZESKAFrench 1891 - 1915

HENRI GAUDIER-BRZESKAFrench 1891 - 1915

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was born in France (at Saint-Jean-De-Braye near to Orleans) and died there, but he remains much better known in England. The son of a carpenter (who perhaps provided his original inspiration to sculpt), when he was fourteen years old he studied on a fellowship in Bristol; he then moved to Germany, followed by Paris. It was here that he began to sculpt. However in 1911 he moved to London to become an artist. Alongside him was the Polish writer Sophie Brzeska. She was twenty years older than Henri, and they shared an intense if eccentric relationship until his death. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska even took her last name although they were never married, and indeed rarely if ever slept together.

Gaudier-Brzeska became a part of the Vorticism movement and went on to become a founding member of the London Group. In 1912 he was influenced by Jacob Epstein which made him change his view on sculpture. He thought that it should move away from the highly finished and polished style that was used in Ancient Greece and adopt a more direct approach in which you can see that the work of the artist has gone into it.

Meanwhile Gaudier-Brzeska’s early drawings were Cubist in manner, simplified and geometric, but became heavily influenced by Ezra Pound and thence Chinese calligraphy and ideograms. Thus he sought to depict the very essence of a subject with as few strokes of the pen, sometimes even a single line. By 1913 he was part of a circle which included T E Hulme, Ezra Pound and Epstein. Gaudier-Brzeska enlisted with the French army at the start of the First World War, and apparently fought with little regard for his personal safety, receiving a decoration for bravery before being killed in the trenches at Neuville-Saint-Vaast. He was 23 years old.

Today 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 d'Orléans.

Jim Ede, founder of Kettle’s Yard art gallery in Cambridge, acquired many of Gaudier-Brzeska’s works of art as well as personal correspondence from the estate of Sophie Brzeska, which he used as the basis for his book ‘Savage Messiah’, which in turn provided the basis of Ken Russell’s 1972 film of the same name.