Henri Gaudier-Brzeska


1914, cast c.1965

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Not on display

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
Object: 171 x 79 x 29 mm
Presented by Kettle's Yard Collection Cambridge 1966

Display caption

Doorknocker is one of a number of similarly-sized objects that Gaudier-Brzeska originally carved in brass. He drew inspiration from Maori jade carvings, creating forms that are abstracted from the body. As with The Imp, the carving takes on an erotic charge.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915

T00841 Doorknocker 1914

Not inscribed.
Polished bronze, 6¿ x 3¼ x 1¿ (17.5 x 8.3 x 2.8)
Presented by the Kettle’s Yard Collection, Cambridge 1966.

No. 4 in an edition of twelve casts made by H. S. Ede from the original cut bronze in the Kettle’s Yard Collection. In his own list of his works, Gaudier included two ‘Marteaux de porte’, bronze, which he described as ‘Tailléàmême le bloc de bronze pas de coulagepoli’. Despite its measurements, the original of the present cast is the version there listed by Gaudier as ‘8” long’. H. S. Ede acquired it from the estate of Miss Brzeska. By 1930, when his Life of Gaudier-Brzeska was published, he had mislaid it, and therefore added ‘Lost’ to the relevant entry in Gaudier’s list as printed there. Ede rediscovered it shortly afterwards and used it for several years as the doorknocker at his house at 1 Elm Row, London NW3; the small projection at the back of the present cast was added to the original by him for this purpose.

In his review of the Allied Artists’ Association exhibition, Holland Park Hall, in The Egoist, 15 June 1914, Gaudier wrote in the paragraph on his own work: ‘The doorknocker is an instance of an abstract design seeming to amplify the value of an object as such. No more cupids riding mermaids, garlands, curtains—stuck anywhere! The technique is unusual; the object is not cast but carved direct out of solid brass. The forms gain in sharpness and rigidity’ (reprinted in Pound, op. cit., p. 27). Brodzky relates (op. cit. p. 90) how Gaudier ‘would tell me that so-and-so wanted a watch-charm, a door-knocker, or a paper-weight— something “phallic”, to use their words. About this time the word “phallic” was very popular and commonly used as a part of the art jargon of the day. Brzeska would cut a piece of brass for them that would look more like a masonic charm than anything else. He would tell them that it was symbolic of fecundity or virility, or whatever erotic nonsense he had in his head at the time. This was what they wanted. They would believe it was something highly improper and take it away satisfied, leaving him in a mood of amused contempt and making the most obscene comments on their taste and judgement.’

H. S. Ede wrote (9 July 1966) ‘there are several drawings for “Doorknocker”—none exactly like the bronze.’ The drawing reproduced as No. 85 in Brodzky, Gaudier-Brzeska Drawings, 1946, is clearly closely related to the present acquisition.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.

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