Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (4 October 1891-5 June 1915) was a French sculptor who developed a rough hewn, primitive style of direct carving.
Henri Gaudier was born in St. Jean de Braye near Orléans. In 1910 he moved to London to become an artist, even though he had no formal training. There he met Sophie Brzeska, a Polish writer twice his age, and began an intense symbiotic relationship with her; annexing her surname although they never married.
Gaudier-Brzeska fell in with the Vorticism movement of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, becoming a founder member of the London Group. He advocated 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. From his original admiration for the work of Rodin, he also drew from primitive ethnic sculpture arriving at the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum. 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 on 5 June 1915.
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.
- Savage Messiah, H.S. Ede, Heinemann (1931) - Biography of the Sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
- reprinted Kettle's Yard Gallery (1971), ISBN 0900406151
- The Tate Collection
- Background to the film Savage Messiah - http://www.iainfisher.com/rusar3.html
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