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.
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 DorÃ© 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.
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.