George Hakenschmidt, Complete Science of Wrestling (1909).1
In the gym
Gaudier-Brzeska was evidently enthralled not only by the strength of the wrestlers, who were small in build, like himself, but also by the energy, spectacle and affective power of watching the fight. The homosocial spheres of the gym and the ring were, in the early twentieth century, spaces in which the male body ‘was the legitimate object of a male gaze’.14 Gaudier-Brzeska transferred the excitement he felt watching the wrestling in the club to his work in his new studio underneath a railway arch in Putney which was cheaper than his previous one and offered a large workspace with a concrete floor:
Moves and movement
In Red Stone Dancer, however, vital and energetic movement is given expression in three dimensions rather than in relief, and as such are close to Gaudier-Brzeksa’s drawings of bodybuilders and athletes. Whereas the Wrestlers are emphatically male, Red Stone Dancer is ambiguously gendered, bearing prominent breasts to the front but the appearance of a male body if viewed from the back (fig.12). For these reasons it can be argued that it was Red Stone Dancer, rather than Wrestlers, that should be seen as the ‘culmination’ of Gaudier-Brzeska’s exploration of the wrestling body. In the stone piece the wrestler and the dancer are united in a powerful and supple single figure.
Wrestling and wrestlers in the life class
Using wrestlers and pugilists as life models was common practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are numerous sketches by such British artists as J.M.W. Turner, William Mulready, John Everett Millais and William Etty depicting wrestling figures drawn from life (see figs.14 and 15). Wrestlers, bodybuilders and boxers continued to make money as artist models in the twentieth century, and Gaudier-Brzeska’s life class was by no means unique in providing a wrestler for the pupils to draw. In an article in February 1913 in Health & Strength, Reginald Graham, a wrestler and an artist’s model, described the overlapping worlds of the gymnasium and the life class. Graham recounted how an art student ‘who surveyed me critically one evening at the gymnasium’ advised him to take up life modelling.21 It soon became apparent to the twenty-five-year-old Graham that he would have to pose for a nude photograph to send off to potential art schools along with his letter ‘intimating my readiness to sit as a model’. He described his first engagement in a well-known art school in north-west London (most probably St John’s Wood School of Art) as an ‘ordeal’ conducted under the critical collective gaze of the art students sat around the model’s platform in the life studio. But the physical demands of posing were not strenuous, Graham reported, and his gymnastic training had paid off as his body was manipulated into a series of poses and sequences.
How to cite
Sarah Victoria Turner, ‘Wrestling’, July 2013, in Sarah Turner (ed.), In Focus: 'Wrestlers' 1914, cast 1965, by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Tate Research Publication, July 2013, https://www