Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a Belgian sculptor born in 1891 who had a tragically short life - he was killed on the battlefields of World War One aged only 23.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 'Red Stone Dancer' circa 1913

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Red Stone Dancer circa 1913
Red Mansfield stone
object: 432 x 229 x 229 mm
Presented by C. Frank Stoop through the Contemporary Art Society 1930

View the main page for this artwork

Gaudier (he added the name Brzeska after his girlfriend Sophie Brzeska) was, along with Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, the backbone of the Vorticist movement. He contributed eight sculptures to the first Vorticist show at the Doré Gallery in 1915. A century later, he is seen as one of the great modern sculptors of the 20th century, despite a career of only a few years.

Inevitably, one speculates on what he might have made if he had survived. That said, he was incredibly prolific, and there is a surprising degree of variety in his work. He modelled in clay and plaster to cast into bronze and other metals. He also carved in stone - in fact anything he could find. One was carved from a bone toothbrush and a number of small sculptures were carved from bronze or brass. What is striking amongst the works by Gaudier in The Vorticists exhibition is the range in scale from the Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound - which is, as one might expect, monumental - the Fish which is about the size of my thumb knuckle.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 'Fish' 1914

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
Fish 1914
Bronze
object: 49 x 28 x 8 mm
Presented by Tate Members 2010

View the main page for this artwork

One of the great examples of Gaudier’s work in the show is The Red Stone Dancer c.1913 which, I think, is one of his greatest works. It is like a piece of African tribal carving. The triangular form of the face and the simplification of the body have their roots in African carvings. It was clearly influenced by his visits to the British Museum. But what’s remarkable about this piece is its extraordinary sense of movement. People always say that great sculpture is always three-dimensional, but this really does have energy at every angle.

Chris Stephens is co-curator of The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World and Curator (Modern British Art) and Head of Displays at Tate Britain. The exhibition runs until 4 September 2011.

Comments

d.mcardle

reads strongly as a head too of course , breasts - the eyes ,little head - lock of hair on the forehead;'head' leans to the left 'dancer' to the right. Funny isn't it that modernism with its African influence somehow also reignites the idea of 'stealing the soul' of a 'sitter' . In classical portraiture, a likeness can appropriate the definition of that person,which ONLY their real presence can and maybe should, truly do . Picasso simply (!) chucked the whole thing out - 'Gertrude Stein' 1905

d.mcardle

so again the merging of " inner and outer worlds " HGB could have been looking in the mirror thinking, hmmmn dancer ,knowing it to be in his head and that of the viewer. I like the idea of the work looking back.