Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

Major R.H. Raymond Smythies

1912, cast 1971

Not on display

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
Object: 445 × 229 × 235 mm, 13.6 kg
Purchased 1971

Display caption

Gaudier-Brzeska was born in France but spent most of his career in Britain, where he became a leading figure in the Vorticist movement. Major Raymond Smythies (1860-1939) was an officer in the Prince of Wales's Volunteers who retired from the Army in 1903. He was extremely pleased with this portrait, which emphasises his military bearing and combative expression. Gaudier-Brzeska was to develop a form of Cubist-influenced sculpture inspired by so-called primitive art in which forms were dynamically simplified. But in this bust, a posthumous cast, the principal debt is to the expressive modelling of Rodin, whom Gaudier-Brzeska also revered.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was born in 1891 in St Jean de Braye, near Orléans, in France. He died in battle at Neuville-Saint-Vaast in France in 1915.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915

T01492 Major R.H. Raymond Smythies 1912, cast 1971

Inscribed ‘H Gaudier Brzeska’ on back of neck, and below ‘¿ 1971’ and founder’s stamp ‘MORRIS/SINGER/FOUNDERS/LONDON’. Bronze, 17½ x 9 x 9¼ (44.5 x 23 x 23.5).
Purchased from the Contemporary Art Society (Grant-in-Aid) 1971.
Coll: Cast by the C.A.S. in 1971 from the original plaster T1160.
Lit: H. S.Ede, A Life of Gaudier-Brzeska, 1930, pp.91–2, 192-3, plaster repr. pl.16; H. Brodzky, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 1933, pp.37, 76–8, original bronze repr. facing p.62.

A portrait head of Major R. H. Raymond Smythies, late of the Prince of Wales Volunteers. It was the second of two portraits completed by Gaudier early in 1912. The first was of Haldane Macfall, himself a retired Army officer, who then introduced Major Smythies to Gaudier and suggested the portrait bust. During the sittings, Smythies annoyed Gaudier with persistent expressions of opinion about the use of callipers and other mechanical aids, and by complaining that he had made his nose too flat or his forehead too high, and so on. Gaudier pretended to comply with his suggestions and made various modifications which he removed as soon as his sitter was not looking.

When the head was finished, Major Smythies paid the cost (£12) of having it cast in bronze. In a letter to Major Smythies of 24 April 1912 (kindly communicated by Roger A.Cole) Gaudier wrote ‘I have retouched the head so that the little that had been spoilt by the wet cloth is come back again ... I have asked them (the foundry) for a light green and blue patina of old Pompeian bronze, which, I believe, is what you prefer.’ This bronze cast, which seems to be the only one of this work made in the artist’s lifetime, was subsequently given by Major Smythies to the National Art-Collections Fund and was presented by them to the Manchester City Art Gallery in March 1922.

The original plaster remained in Gaudier’s possession and passed after his death to Sophie Brzeska (who died intestate). It was among the works from her estate purchased by C. Frank Stoop from the Treasury Solicitor in 1930 and presented to the Contemporary Art Society. The C.A.S. gave it to the Tate in 1969 (it is now T01160). Then in 1971 the C.A.S. commissioned the Morris Singer Foundry to make a further edition of five bronze casts from it for sale exclusively to public collections; this cast is No. 1.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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