- Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
- Painted alabaster
- Object: 470 x 140 x 90 mm, 7.4 kg
- Purchased 1996
In his book on Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Savage Messiah, H.S. Ede suggested that Amour was based on drawings executed at life-drawing classes attended during the autumn of 1912. On 14 November 1912, Gaudier wrote to Sophie Brzeska, his lover, 'I went to life class. It is kept by four stupid old women. The model - a lovely young boy - wore a tiny little cloth, and the quick sketch wasn't a sketch at all. The model takes his own pose - which is, of course, a good thing - and keeps it for ten or fifteen minutes. I should have liked to have a model who didn't pose at all, but did everything he wanted to, walked, ran, danced, sat, etc.' (Quoted in Ede, p.191.)
The exact chronology of Gaudier's sculpture has yet to be established, but it is generally agreed that he made and painted plaster sculptures during 1912, and began to carve stone in 1913. This work appears to be stylistically related to two other reliefs: Weeping Woman, 1913 (location unknown) and Man and Woman, 1913 (Leeds City Art Gallery). All three are carved from alabaster and all have had colour applied in some way. When Gaudier began to make carvings, he was too poor to buy good pieces of stone and as a consequence he relied on offcuts from other sculptors. Many of these offcuts were odd in shape and shallow in depth, and Amour is a good example of this.
The artist's letters show that he was as interested in tonal and optical contrasts in his sculptures as he was in the geometrical simplification of forms. The gilded background in Amour draws attention to the different planes serving to distinguish the figure and the ground. It also adds to the three-dimensionality of the figure.
It is possible that the coloured background was intended to give the work a primitive flavour. In a review which particularly pleased the artist, the critic and poet Richard Aldington commented, 'Mr Gaudier-Brzeska is really a wild unkempt barbarian, with a love of form and a very clear knowledge of the comparative history of sculpture. He is the sort of person who would dye his statues in the gore of goats, if he thought it would give them a virile appearance' ('Blast', The Egoist, July 1914). In his book Gaudier-Brzeska. A Memoir, published a year after Gaudier's death, Ezra Pound, the poet and critic, drew parallels between the artist's sculpture and Oceanic carvings, though a more local source for the latent primitivism in the work may have been the polychrome primitivised sculpture of Eric Gill.
Another technique invested with notions of the primitive and archaic was direct carving, that is to say the practice of carving the stone without a preparatory model. It had been pioneered in Britain by Jacob Epstein and Gill and was the hallmark of avant-garde sculpture in the years immediately preceding the First World War (1914-18). Gaudier adopted the technique in 1913.
A photograph of Amour (Tate Archive) that was taken by the fashionable photographer Walter Benington circa 1913 shows the word 'Amour' incised in capital letters on the front surface of the base. This has since been obliterated by the use of a toothed chisel claw. Some letters of the word are still visible in paint in the recessed band just above the base.
Evelyn Silber, Gaudier-Brzeska: Life and Art, London 1996, reproduced p.162, pl.31
Roger Cole, Gaudier-Brzeska: Artist and Myth, Bristol 1995
H.S. Ede, Savage Messiah, London 1931
Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska. A Memoir, London and New York 1916
27 April 2000
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