TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT May 1978

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: The Process of Discovery

I have heard Brancusi: la sculpture n’est pas pour les jeunes hommes. Brancusi also said that Gaudier was a young chap who had an enormous amount of talent, and might have done something had he lived.
Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur1

Brancusi was giving up the facile success of representative sculpture about the time Gaudier was giving up his baby bottle; . . . he has had time to make statues, where Gaudier had time only to make sketches; Gaudier had purged himself of every kind of rhetoric he had noticed; Brancusi has detected more kinds of rhetoric and continued the process of purgation.
Ezra Pound, Literary Essays2

IN OCTOBER OF 1917 two drawings by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska were included in a group show at the Penguin Gallery in New York, “the first time that work by this artist has been exhibited outside of London.”3 However, the exhibition last fall at the Gruenebaum Gallery of sculpture and drawings, consisting chiefly of objects on loan from the Kettle’s Yard Collection in Cambridge, England, was the first real attempt at a comprehensive show of this artist’s work to be presented in the United States in the intervening 60 years.4 For most people this show provided for the first time sufficient material for a consideration of the position of Gaudier-Brzeska’s work in modern art.

Of the avant-garde artists who lost their lives in the First World War5 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who was associated with the Vorticist movement in London, certainly died youngest. He was killed at 23, and, except for a few surviving sketches, and several small pieces of sculpture made while he was in the trenches (now lost), the period of his full artistic production actually ended when he left for the Front, in September of 1914, when he was still 22. Yet in the space of his very brief career, in spite of extreme poverty and the lack of any widespread recognition for his work, Gaudier produced an impressive body of drawings and sculpture, and established connections with some of the most advanced creative intellects of his time, including Constantin Brancusi, Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound. In addition to his artwork, he wrote criticism and did illustrations for a variety of magazines, and contributed two manifestos to the polemical Vorticist publication BLAST. Perhaps because there are very few examples of Gaudier’s work in the United States, until comparatively recently it was through literary sources, especially Ezra Pound’s posthumous tribute, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir,6 that the artist’s name has been known in this country. In 1972 his life was made the theme of one of Ken Russell’s free-association film biographies, Savage Messiah, carelessly adapted from H.S. Ede’s book; yet his name and work are still unfamiliar to most people, even in the art world. Gaudier’s career has been the object of highly focused, but very limited critical attention. It is chiefly owing to the current reexamination of Vorticist art in Britain that his work has again been brought to light.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was born Henri Gaudier, in St. Jean-de-Braye, France, on October 4, 1891, the son of a carpenter. His excellence at school won him a series of traveling scholarships: first to Great Britain in 1906, and again in 1908, and then to Germany in 1909. These scholarships were intended to enable Gaudier to learn foreign business methods, but his interest in drawing, and his generally developing talents as an artist, increasingly absorbed his attention. During his travels he visited zoos as well as museums, sketching architecture, statuary, animals and birds. Gaudier’s precocious skill as a draftsman is evident from the ink drawing Grace and Speed or the Golden Eagle’s Wing, done in 1908, when he was a student in Bristol. While this highly finished study gives no foretaste of the fluid, evocative line that characterizes most of his later work—compare a much later drawing , A Vulture—the degree of control it displays is significant, and the shading, which suggests bas-relief, is an indication of Gaudier’s awakening interest in sculptural form.

When he returned from Germany, late in 1909, Gaudier was determined to be an artist, and took up residence in Paris. He worked as a translator during the day, and drew and studied art in the evening. He haunted the museums and libraries of Paris during his free time, and did caricatures for Le Rire and Charivari to earn extra money. The decision to concentrate on sculpture came in 1910. In a letter to a Dr. Uhlemayr, one of his favorite professors in Nuremberg, he wrote,

I have taken a great decision—I am not going to do any more color work, but shall restrict myself entirely to the plastic. I have never been able to see color detached from form, and this year, after doing a few studies in painting I noticed that the drawing and modeling were all I had been concerned with. I have put by the brushes and tubes and snatched the chisel and boaster . . . sculpture is the art of expressing the reality of ideas in the most palpable form. It makes plain, even to the eyes of fools, the power of the human mind to conceive ideas, and demonstrates in cold lucidity all that is fervent, ideal, and everlasting in the soul of man.7

A second crucial event took place early in the same year. While studying in the evenings at the BibIiothèque Ste.-Geneviève, Henri Gaudier met Sophie Brzeska, a disturbed Polish woman twice his age, who was to remain an irresistible fascination for him for the rest of his life. H.S. Ede’s book Savage Messiah documents their bizarre love-hurt relationship. By means of Gaudier’s correspondence, supplemented by material from other sources (including Sophie Brzeska’s diaries), Ede gives an absorbing, and at times harrowing, picture of their life together. They seem to have formed the complementary components of a single manic-depressive personality. While Gaudier may have been highly eccentric—he was fond of telling tall tales for effect, and was undoubtedly extremely hyperactive—his companion, Miss Brzeska, suffered from a persecution mania that ultimately sent her to an asylum. She fancied herself a writer, but accomplished little, and her odd appearance (one acquaintance described her as looking like Cézanne’s portraits of his wife),8 her irritability and her paranoid behavior seem to have alienated everyone but Gaudier. She was obsessed with herself, and Gaudier was obsessed with her. Though they argued incessantly he felt obliged to humor and protect her, often to his own social detriment, and in spite of the fact that she treated him with the tyrannizing attitude of an older sister.

It was at her insistence that their relationship remained platonic. She even encouraged Gaudier to unleash his libido on prostitutes. He entertained fantasies of a more intimate connection (as many letters and very explicit drawings attest), but, the mere suggestion of anything carnal between them, let alone marriage, was apparently sufficient to send Sophie into a fit of implacable hysteria. When Gaudier brought her to meet his family, they strongly disapproved, and there was even a scandal in his home town over the presumed nature of their relationship. Consequently, and because of Gaudier’s impending military service, they decided to leave France. The two of them set off for London early in 1911. Masquerading as brother and sister, they hyphenated their names to complete the disguise, which is how Henri Gaudier acquired the unwieldy and improbable name of Gaudier-Brzeska.

When they first arrived in London, Gaudier-Brzeska had difficulty in establishing himself as an artist, and again took a job as a translator to earn money. But he quickly began to form important friendships with other artists—like Jacob Epstein, whom he first met in 1911.9 He introduced himself to Haldane Macfall, the critic and playwright, after reading some of his writing in The English Review, and was in turn introduced by him to many influential people in London. These included the American writer Frank Harris, who commissioned Gaudier to do illustrations for the magazine he edited and also bought a relief of a dog. Gaudier contributed illustrations to Rhythm, a literary review edited by Macfall’s friends Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield, until they had a falling out that was precipitated by Miss Mansfield’s abhorrence of Sophie Brzeska.

Aside from the prolific production of drawings, which marked his entire career, Gaudier-Brzeska’s early work in London consisted mostly of sculptures like the Workman Fallen from a Scaffold, and portraits of acquaintances. The modeling was strongly influenced by his early idol Rodin, and also by Daumier. But there were also commissions for theatre and dance subjects (mostly obtained through friends of Macfall). Ezra Pound claims that Gaudier’s first sculptural commission came in 1912.10 It was for a statue of the then-famous actress Maria Carmi as The Nun in Max Reinhardt’s legendary production of The Miracle; the work is also known as The Madonna. This commission was brought to Gaudier by Mrs. Leman Hare, another of Macfall’s circle, although it ultimately came from a Lord Northcliffe, and might have yielded as much as £200 by subscription. But the patron was not satisfied with the work, and it realized only £5 for the sculptor. The model was cast in plaster, in an edition of two, one of which survives. An early photograph indicates that it was painted with an overall pattern of patches in various colors.11 The modeling of this figure is very vague except for the face, and the uncharacteristic sweetness of expression of the sitter betrays this as a commission executed with little enthusiasm.

Also in 1912, Gaudier received a commission for a statue of a subject taken from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Stravinsky’s Firebird, which was then causing a sensation in London. Oiseau de Feu, which was commissioned by a man named Julian Lousada, represents Tamara Karsavina and her partner Adolph Bolm (whose costumes had been designed by Leon Bakst) at the moment at which the Tsarevitch captures the Firebird by stealing up behind her and seizing her wings. Cyril Beaumont recalls this scene as one of the most memorable interpretations he had ever witnessed: “How beautifully Karsavina expressed with the tremor of her fettered arms and the anxious look in her eyes the emotion of a captured bird passionately longing for freedom.”12 While some critics feel that the pose of this statue is awkward, it would seem to be completely faithful to Beaumont’s account of the scene, and it is probably Gaudier’s earliest sculptural treatment of the theme of dancers.

Late in 1912 Gaudier began work on the Ornamental Mask commissioned by Claude Lovat Fraser, the illustrator and theatrical designer, yet another friend of Macfall.13 A posthumous bronze cast is illustrated, but as it appears in an early photograph,14 the plaster original of this mask was lavishly polychromed, with a gilded face. The overall design reveals the unmistakable influence of the work of Leon Bakst. In his posthumous tribute to Lovat Fraser, Haldane Macfall mentions his friend’s acquaintance with Gaudier, and his commission for the mask.15 He also mentions Fraser’s interest in Bakst’s designs for the Ballets Russes.16 During the summer of 1912, while convalescing outside of London, Lovat Fraser asked Macfall to bring him issues of Commoedia Illustré containing color reproductions of Bakst’s designs, which had a very strong influence on Fraser’s own work.17 The Mask, which bears almost no relation to the balance of Gaudier’s work, would seem to be all but directly taken from the Bakst designs for Le Dieu Bleu, and especially from the design for one of the Bayadères, whose oriental features, flattened nose and almond eyes match those of Gaudier’s mask and whose pearl-laden headdress would seem to be the inspiration for the otherwise enigmatic nodules of hair. The issues of Commoedia would have contained similar illustrations, but the 1911 Bakst drawing of a Bayadères was in the London collection of Sir Philip Sassoon at the time Gaudier made the Mask.18 It is not unlikely that Sassoon was among Fraser’s friends, since Sassoon later owned one of Fraser’s own drawings,19 so that this Bakst drawing could conceivably be the direct inspiration for the mask. While it was probably executed by Gaudier, the heavy polychromy was undoubtedly Fraser’s idea, since none of Gaudier’s other works is painted in such a fashion. Besides, Gaudier wrote in a letter to Sophie, “That ass Fraser is doing such rotten things, affected and stupid and crude in color. It is true that the colors are brilliant, but they have no relation to each other.”20 While he accepted commissions in his eagerness to gain work, the maverick Gaudier was always happier, and more successful, when carrying out his own ideas.

The Torso of a woman which Gaudier executed in 1913 in white marble is perhaps the most conventionally beautiful piece of sculpture he ever produced—sufficiently conventional to be accepted by the Victoria and Albert Museum shortly after his death (and exhibited there as the “Treasure of the Week” in 1933)21—but also sufficiently striking to be an early inspiration to Henry Moore.22 Apparently carved from a piece of marble filched from a stonecutter’s yard, Gaudier confided to his friend Major Smithies that it was done “of a girl in the natural way, to show my accomplishment as a sculptor.” Yet to the same friend he wrote, “We are of different opinion [sic] about naturalism, I treat it as a hollow accomplishment. The artificial is full of metaphysical meaning, which is all-important.”23

The psychological beginnings of this departure from the safety of naturalism can already be seen in The Dancer (1913), which is among the most satisfying works of his entire career. It is one of the earliest representations of a very modern conception of woman, that of the female dancer as an incarnation of dynamic energy. This slim figure, with small breasts set high on a long torso, with narrow hips and small buttocks, is a startlingly contemporary presentation of the female form. Moreover, the attitude of the figure—her slender arms elevated as she descends two short steps with the deliberate trajectory and intent, and the withheld gaze, of a Martha Graham dancer—is a complete departure from the psychology of Rodin and Maillol. There is nothing coy or decorative about this dancer: no passive nymph, she has will, energy and momentum. This compelling impression of motion and vitality is the first indication of the dramatic change in Gaudier’s style.

Gaudier-Brzeska first formally exhibited his work in London in 1913, at the Allied Artists Association Salon, held at the Albert Hall in June. There he showed six pieces, four of them portraits. During the course of the exhibition he met Constantin Brancusi, who also exhibited, and whose work was an important influence on Gaudier’s developing style. He also first met Ezra Pound there. In the same year he began to work for Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, executing a number of sculptures, several ceramic cats, and other decorative objects, including a design for an inlaid wooden tray showing strong Cubist influence.24

While he was extremely antiauthoritarian and antibourgeois, Gaudier-Brzeska was nevertheless terribly voluble and highly social. He took an integral part in the bohemian life of avant-garde London, and as he became more aware of the work of other artists—and other civilizations—his style grew more self-aware, more adventurous and increasingly abstract. The works of Brancusi and Epstein, and the sculpture of primitive tribes were important influences, impressing Gaudier with the dynamic potential of carved stylized and abstract forms.

A major experiment reflecting these influences is the figure known as the Red Stone Dancer, now in the Tate Gallery. It was probably made later in 1913 than The Dancer and constitutes a radically different treatment of virtually the same subject. In this statue the head has been reduced to an egg-shape; the features of the face are indicated by a single embossed triangle. There is a significant torsion in the figure, and the thick trunklike legs bend as the body twists. Both arms are folded over the head, terminating in grooved, spatulate hands. This piece suggests an as yet uneasy synthesis of Brancusi and African tribal sculpture, and the confusing arrangement of the hands and breasts indicates that Gaudier was not yet quite adept at this sort of amalgamation.

In 1914 Gaudier was put on the selection committee of the Allied Artists’ Association, with whom he had first exhibited only the previous year. This distinction did not inhibit him from writing a critique of the exhibition (including comments on his own work) which appeared in The Egoist for June 1914. In this review Gaudier-Brzeska deliberately set his sculpture criticism at the beginning of the piece, where discussions of painting would normally have appeared. He felt that “this virile art” deserved greater attention and went on to say, “The sculpture I admire is the work of master craftsmen. Every inch of the surface is won at the point of the chisel—every stroke of the hammer is a physical and mental effort.”25

By this time Gaudier had already become involved in the Vorticist movement, led by Wyndham Lewis, which had the Rebel Art Center as its headquarters. The Vorticists were as much inspired by as reacting against the esthetics of Italian Futurism—as advocated by Filippo Marinetti, who came to London to deliver a rather sensational lecture in 1914 (with Gaudier acting as chief heckler).26 The Vorticists regarded the Futurists’ blurry attempts at depicting motion in plastic art as a dangerous reprise of Impressionism. Mervyn Levy discriminates between the two groups as follows:

Whereas Futurism fragmented action, broke it up, tried to present simultaneously all the multiple phases of an activity, Vorticism set out to achieve its concentration as a force. The vortex was the point of maximum concentration of will, of apprehension, the creating of one image “from which,” in Pound’s words, “and through which, and into which ideas are constantly rushing.”27

It is the arresting of the circular ripple of energy (motion) spreading outwards from the core of an activity which distinguishes the objectives of Vorticism from those of Futurism. The arresting of the energy is the single image. Vorticism is concerned with a selected phase of activity (energy). Futurism endeavors to present an Impressionistic totality: to give a simultaneous picture of every phase of an action.28

While this distinction is not uniformly true throughout the Vorticist group, it is certainly true of Gaudier-Brzeska. He was not interested in attempting to capture the transitions of objects through any “fourth dimension” by their representation in two or three, but sought to invest his sculpture with concentrated mental energy.

Gaudier contributed a manifesto to the first number of the Vorticist magazine BLAST which appeared in the summer of 1914. The most relevant passages are the first and last. “GAUDIER-BRZESKA VORTEX” begins:

Sculptural energy is the mountain.
Sculptural feeling is the appreciation of masses in relation.
Sculptural ability is the defining of these masses by planes.

There intervenes a bravura disquisition on the history of world art as a series of vortices, ending with:

And WE the Moderns: . . .
The knowledge of our Civilization embraces the world, we have mastered the elements . . . we have crystallized the sphere into the cube, we have made a combination of all the possible shaped masses—concentrating them to express our abstract thoughts of conscious superiority.
Will and consciousness are our VORTEX.29

In this manifesto Gaudier was delineating a progressive history of the psychology of sculptural form, characterizing and dismissing entire civilizations with recklessly procrustean generalizations. But sections of it remain among the most eloquent statements on modern sculpture. Gaudier’s brash insistence on “the appreciation of stone as stone”30 and of plastic form as “the intensity of life bursting the plane”31 was perhaps the closest that the Vorticist movement came to a positive statement of an esthetic ideology.

Besides his ambitious writing, Gaudier-Brzeska produced a great deal of artwork during the first nine months of 1914, the last phase of his artistic career in London. Among other works, he carved a marble statue of a Seated Woman (posthumously cast in bronze) which indicates a very successful assimilation of influence from primitive sculpture into a modern plastic idiom. The sleeping face has the simplification of an African mask, but in this work the hands have not been divided into fingers as in the Red Stone Dancer. No extraneous details distract from the arrangement of the masses of the body; the head and arms assume a posture which combines suspension and repose. He also executed the deliberately ithyphallic bust called Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound,32 carved in pentelic marble. Commissioned by his fellow Vorticist, this was probably the largest sculpture Gaudier-Brzeska ever completed, and, thanks to Pound’s bragging, perhaps his most famous. The sketches for it, done in decisive black strokes reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy, are far more interesting than the finished head, however, which has a caricatural quality that does not carry well in stone, plus a peculiar blockish stolidity, characteristic of neither artist nor model, that now makes it seem like the monument to a private joke.

Even as a Vorticist Gaudier was an eccentric. Wyndham Lewis felt that he was “a little too naturalistic and not starkly XX century enough,”33 for in spite of the prevailing machine-mad esthetic of the Vorticists, Gaudier always maintained an interest in natural forms. This conviction, and his capacity for cathexis in his work, enabled him, in the words of Ford Madox Ford, to invest “a little piece of marble” with “the tightened softness of the haunches of a fawn.”34 Even his most abstract works still have some figural reference. At the time of his death he was planning to write an essay on “the need of organic forms in sculpture.”35 The very stylized alabaster group of Stags, now in Chicago, executed in 1914, remains an interpretation of animal life. His Dog of that year, a charming rendition of a dachshund, done in marble (and posthumously cast in bronze), has about it the solidity of a block of stone, yet it imparts the same feeling of motion as the earlier Dancer. Although Gaudier’s form is blunter and more expressive, the dog resembles such later works by Francois Pompon (1855-1933) as the elegantly streamlined Polar Bear of 1921, in its simplifying, essentialist form. Even Birds Erect (Museum of Modern Art), which was probably his last work, while Gaudier’s most explicit Vorticist composition, retains figurative qualities. In this work he employs the Vorticist method of implying dynamic tension through the exclusive use of diagonals; more than in any other work, the planes of the compact, thrusting crystalline masses are defined by sharp edges. This work can be compared to a Composition of the same year by Lawrence Atkinson (1873–1931), also in the Museum of Modern Art, which shows a similar use of antigravitational diagonals as well as shading.

Gaudier-Brzeska exhibited several times in 1914, yet in spite of the increased exposure of his work, most of what he managed to sell went to friends. While he was engaged in his typically feverish creative activity in London, war broke out on the Continent, and Gaudier decided that he should return to defend his country. On his first attempt to return to France he was arrested on arrival as a deserter. He managed to escape, and returned to London, but the bombardment of Rheims Cathedral so horrified him that he got a safe-conduct from the French Embassy, and left again for France in September of 1914. He was never to return.

Gaudier continued to draw and sculpt, but most of all to write, while he was at war. He sketched his impressions of battle, and two of these sketches, done in the trenches at Craonne, are preserved in the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne in Paris. Ironically, one of them, a pencil sketch entitled One of Our Shells Exploding, is almost identical in composition to a 1913 Giacomo Balla painting of The Vortex.36 Gaudier appears to have been a dedicated soldier. He was promoted twice for bravery. Far from suffering from the Rupert Brooke syndrome, he remained optimistic, and seemed to view the war almost as an amusing adventure. In a letter to his friend Mrs. Shakespeare he lightheartedly reported that “. . . Chopin and Beethoven are my preferred musicians. Needless to say that here we have nothing of the kind, we have the finest futurist music Marinetti can dream of, big guns, small guns, . . . with a great difference between the German and the French.”37 He also wrote another manifesto for BLAST, in which he stated:

MY VIEWS ON SCULPTURE REMAIN ABSOLUTELY THE SAME. IT IS THE VORTEX OF WILL, OF DECISION, THAT BEGINS.
I SHALL DERIVE MY EMOTIONS SOLELY FROM THE ARRANGEMENT OF SURFACES, I shall present my emotions by the ARRANGEMENT OF MY SURFACES, THE PLANES AND LINES BY WHICH THEY ARE DEFINED.

Mentioning the fact that he had captured an enemy rifle he wrote:

I broke the butt off and with my knife carved in it a design, through which I tried to express a gentler order of feeling, which I preferred.

BUT I WILL EMPHASIZE that MY DESIGN got its effect (just as the gun had) FROM A VERY SIMPLE ARRANGEMENT OF LINES AND PLANES.38

This second “VORTEX” was published posthumously in BLAST in July of 1915. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in a charge at Neuville-St.-Vaast, Belgium, on June 5, 1915. In the year following his death, Ezra Pound published his Memoir, which was the first attempt at an appraisal of Gaudier’s work. A memorial exhibition was held in London, at the Leicester Galleries, in July 1918, and his remaining works were dispersed.

While one could speculate forever on what Gaudier-Brzeska might have accomplished had he lived, certain things can be said with certainty. From the character of his correspondence during the war, as well as his continued pursuit of his art while in the trenches, it may be presumed that he would have gone on with his career had he returned to London. Furthermore, it is certain that if he had returned, he would have had John Quinn, the influential New York art collector, as a patron. Shortly before Gaudier-Brzeska died, Ezra Pound had succeeded in interesting Quinn in his work, and the artist was aware of his efforts, inquiring in a letter to Pound dated May 25, 1915, “Have you succeeded with Quinn?”39 Pound himself testifies, in a letter addressed to Simon Guggenheim in 1925, that “Gaudier went to his death in the war, but John Quinn would have kept him if he had lived.”40

Pound’s assertion is substantiated by a body of unpublished correspondence in the John Quinn Memorial Collection at the New York Public Library. After the artist’s death there was extensive correspondence between Quinn, Pound and Gaudier’s crazed soul-mate Sophie Brzeska. When negotiations with Miss Brzeska broke down there was correspondence between John Quinn and the Leicester Galleries, who became her agents in the sale of Gaudier’s work. Aside from revealing the eccentric character of each of the private correspondents, and the shrewdness of art dealers, these letters demonstrate Quinn’s staunch determination to have a large number of representative works by Gaudier-Brzeska, even while his de facto heir raised the prices and stalled for time. Quinn’s original intention was to purchase all of Gaudier’s work outright. As it turned out, he ultimately succeeded in acquiring only three sculptures through the Leicester Galleries, two others from the Omega Workshops, and a sixth from Frank Harris, as well as a group of approximately 40 drawings which he had managed to buy earlier from Sophie Brzeska through Ezra Pound. All but one of Gaudier’s major works in stone in American museums are traceable to Quinn’s collection. His interest in Gaudier-Brzeska’s posthumous reputation is expressed in a letter dated June 26, 1916, to Horace Brodzky, the artist’s friend and biographer: “I am sending you with this, a copy of the [Pound] Brzeska book. I am sure you will enjoy it. There was rather a nasty patronizing review of it in yesterday’s Times by a jackass who knows nothing about art.”41

It is a fact of life that in criticizing the works of an artist who died so young, one either has a tendency to romanticize and to make allowances for the fact that his career was cut short—to ignore or explain away weaknesses in the work as unavoidable developmental foibles—or, at the other extreme, to dismiss the work as immature and defective simply because its creator really was quite young. Criticism of Gaudier’s work has followed both courses, although in his case neither is really possible. He produced too much work of high quality to require overcompensatory hyperbole, or to permit his easy dismissal as an altogether unrealized talent. Nevertheless one must acknowledge that at the time of his death he had not had the time to evolve fully a distinctive, recognizable, modern style. But it would be naive to suppose that Gaudier was not aware of this himself. In one of his letters to Sophie Brzeska he wrote, “As to my ideas about art, I’m perpetually modifying them, and I am very glad I do. If I stuck to some fixed idea, I should grow mannered, and spoil my whole development.”42 He was a prodigious and phenomenally versatile draftsman, but his output of sculpture was limited—though remarkable, for a man who began to sculpt at 19 and stopped at 22. Pound is correct when he says that Gaudier had had time only to make sketches. And the appreciation of his sculpture has been complicated by the problems that must always attend the taking of posthumous casts (for whatever motives) of stone, plaster, and carved brass originals in other materials, and the proliferation of such casts. Since most of Gaudier’s best work is directly carved, the plastic values apparent in a carved form are neutralized by the casting process, and in the case of a marble original, the light-refractive quality of the stone is cancelled completely.

Brancusi was correct in his observation that sculpture was not a field in which one could expect early accomplishment. The development of a writer or musician requires only that the artist be talented and have sufficient capabilities of imagination and application to accomplish the work at hand: think of such prodigies as Chatterton and Mozart. In the plastic arts however, the artist must be physically mature enough to handle the materials properly and patiently.

Perhaps Henry Moore’s assessment of Gaudier’s career is best. Inspired by Pound’s Memoir, which he characterized as “an excitement,” Moore commented further: “this was written with a freshness and an insight, and Gaudier speaks as a young sculptor discovering things.”43 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was indeed a very gifted young artist who was stopped in the midst of his experiments, while he was still involved with absorbing and discarding influences. He was just discovering himself, and he has, in turn, waited to be discovered.

Brice Rhyne, who also writes film criticism, works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

An exhibition documenting John Quinn’s early patronage of avant-garde art, organized and with a catalogue by Judith Zilczer, will be held at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., from June 15 to September 4. It will include several works by Gaudier-Brzeska.

A note on the pronunciation of Brzeska. According to the Polish-American Information Agency, the name should be pronounced Bjeś-ka, with the B sounded. According to Ezra Pound, the artist pronounced it “Jaersh-ka,” but most people in the art world pronounce it “Zair-ska.”

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NOTES

1. Ezra Pound, Guide to Kulchur, New York, 1938, p. 59.

2. Ezra Pound, “Brancusi,” in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, New York, 1918, p. 442.

3. New York Sun, October 23, 1917.

4. Except perhaps for a show of 17 drawings and three sculptures held at the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (January 19-February 4, 1941).

5. Among whom were Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Umberto Boccioni, and two members of Der Blaue Reiter, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke.

6. Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir, New York, 1970 (1st edition 1916).

7. H.S. Ede, Savage Messiah, New York, 1972 (1st edition 1931), p. 22. A boaster is a chisel used for smoothing.

8. Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso, New York, 1932, p. 95.

9. Jacob Epstein, An Autobiography, London, 1955, p. 44 ff.

10. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 43.

11. Horace Brodsky, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, London, 1933, photo opposite p. 50.

12. Cyril Beaumont, The Diaghilev Ballet in London, London, 1940, p. 19.

13. Roger Cole, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, London, 1977, p. 17 shows a facsimile of a letter indicating that Gaudier had just sent the mask to be cast on 12/16/12.

14. Brodsky, Gaudier-Brzeska, opp. p. 124.

15. Haldane Macfall, The Book of Lovat, London, 1923, p. 53.

16. Macfall, pp. 59-60.

17. Charles Spencer, Leon Bakst, New York, 1973, pp. 105-106.

18. Arsene Alexandre and Jean Cocteau, L’Art Decoratif de Leon Bakst, Paris, 1913, pl. 2, listed as in the collection of Sir Philip Sassoon, Bart, London.

19. John Drinkwater and Albert Rutherston, Claud Loyal Fraser, London, 1923, pl. 5, listed as in the possession of Sir Philip Sassoon, Bart.

20. Ede, p. 94.

21. Illustrated London News, September 23, 1933.

22. Herbert Read, Henry Moore—A Study of His Life and Work, New York, 1966, pp. 52–53.

23. Ede, p. 151.

24. Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976, illus. p. 173.

25. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p.31.

26. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 52. Wees, Vorticism, p. 111.

27. Mervyn Levy, Gaudier-Brzeska: Drawings and Sculpture, London, 1965, p.13.

28. Levy, p. 17.

29. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, pp. 20-24.

30. Pound, “Brancusi,” p. 442.

31. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 21.

32. Cork, p. 182. According to Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso, p. 41. Ezra Pound said: “You must sculpt me,” and bought him a block of marble. He said, “You must make me look like a sexual organ.”

33. William Wees, Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde, Toronto and Buffalo, 1972, p. 121.

34. Ford Madox Ford, Thus to Revisit, New York, 1966 (1st edition 1921).

35. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 25.

36. Cork, Vorticism, Balla ill. p. 255; Levy, Gaudier-Brzeska, ill. no. 52.

37. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 69, dated May 14, 1915.

38. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, pp. 27-28.

39. Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 64.

40. D.D. Paige, ed., The Letters of Ezra Pound, p. 196, Rapallo, February 24, 1925.

41. Harold Brodzky, Gaudier-Brzeska, p. 167. The jackass Quinn refers to was Joyce Kilmer, the poet. His smug analysis of Pound’s book appeared in the New York Times Magazine for June 25, 1916, entitled “How the War Changed a Vorticist Sculptor.” Kilmer himself was killed in action in France in 1918.

42. Ede, p. 102.

43. Philip James, Henry Moore on Sculpture, New York, 1966, p. 50, quoted from an unpublished excerpt from the manuscript of an interview with Donald Hall, the bulk of which appeared in Horizon, vol. III, no. 2, New York, 1960.