Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

The Dancer


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Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
Object: 787 × 230 × 216 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

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This work was first modelled in clay, which contributed to the sinuous elegance of its form. It has been described in terms of ‘fluidity and physical abandon’ and reflects Gaudier’s fascination with rhythm and movement. This was influenced by the theories of creative energy and of the world in a state of constant flux, proposed by the philosopher Henri Bergson. The figure is based on the painter Nina Hamnett, who danced naked in the studios of Paris. She had been admired by Isadora Duncan, the leading exponent of contemporary ‘free’ dance.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

T03726 The Dancer 1913

Plaster, painted brown 31 × 9 × 8 1/2 (787 × 230 × 216) including base
Inscribed ‘H Gaudier-Brzeska 1913’ on the base
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Sydney Schiff c. 1913; presented by Sydney Schiff to Sophie Brzeska for the purpose of presenting it to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1918; presented by Sophie Brzeska to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1918 (A. 89–1918)
Exh: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, July 1977 (74)
Lit: Stanley Casson, Some Modern Sculptors, 1928, pp.97–9 and 108 (repr. pl.34); H.S. Ede, A Life of Gaudier-Brzeska, 1930, pp.178 and 204 (repr. pl.11 as ‘Statuette of Sophie Brzeska: The Dancer’ and pl.XL as ‘The Dancer’); J. Wood Palmer, ‘Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915)’, Studio, cliii, June 1957, p.178; Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Tate Gallery, 1964, i, p.208 (repr.p.127); M. Ménier, ‘Nouvelle Présentation. Musée National d'Art Moderne. La Salle Gaudier-Brzeska’, La Revue du Louvre, no.3, 1965, pp.144–5; Tate Gallery Report 1965–66, 1966, p.29; Mervyn Levy, Gaudier-Brzeska Drawings and Sculpture, 1965, pp.16–17; Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, August–September 1972, pp.21–2 (repr. pl.5); Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 1975, 1, p.176 (bronze cast repr.); Roger Cole, Burning to Speak. The Life and Art of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Oxford, 1978, pp.32–3 and 81 (bronze cast repr.); Brice Rhyne, ‘Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: The Process of Discovery’, Artforum, xvi, May 1978, p.35; Serge Fauchereau, ‘Gaudier-Brzeska: Animalist Artist’, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sculptor 1891–1915, exhibition catalogue, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, October–November 1983, p.8 and catalogue entry 41 (repr.)

T03726 is in plaster painted the colour of bronze and is supported by a wooden armature at the figure's right knee. There are also traces of green and red pigment.

According to Ede, ‘The Dancer’ is ‘a statuette of Sophie Brzeska’ although it has also been suggested that it is a portrait of Nina Hamnett (see J. Wood Palmer and catalogue entry 41 in the catalogue to the exhibition at Kettle's Yard Gallery). There is considerable facial resemblance between Nina Hamnett and this sculpture (for further reference to Nina Hamnett see entry for T03731).

T03726 originally belonged to Sydney Schiff. He described it in a letter to Cecil Smith as ‘the original plaster model’ (undated letter, after 11 July 1918, Victoria and Albert Museum). The sculpture would have been modelled in clay and cast in plaster. By 1918 there were two bronze casts, one of which was exhibited at the Memorial exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries in May–June 1918, but it is still unclear whether they were cast during Gaudier's lifetime. According to Ede (letter of 1 October 1966) ‘there was no bronze originally made by the artist’. The bronzes belonged to Schiff and to George Eumorfopoulos. By 1966 the cast belonging to the former had entered the collection of Sir Edward Beddington Behrens. The other cast is now in a private collection in London. Since then at least six more casts have been made which are in the following collections: Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford, Mr and Mrs David Wynne, London, Tate Gallery (T00762), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans and Kettle's Yard, Cambridge. They were all cast from the original plaster by the Fiorini and Carney Foundry. The first five were cast in 1965 under the supervision of David Wynne. Although uncertain, he thinks that six may have been cast at that time (conversation with the compiler on 22 May 1986). The cast belonging to Kettle's Yard was made in 1967.

The sculpture is relatively naturalistic - although the distance between the knees and the feet has been considerably foreshortened - but was made shortly before or at the same time as Gaudier was experimenting with primitivism.

Cole intimates that Rodin's ‘Invocation’ (Musée Rodin, Paris) may have been the source for this work but Fauchereau suggests that the ‘Dancer’ of the Gallo-Roman period, on display in Gaudier's youth in the Municipal Museum, Orléans, may have been at the back of his mind. He writes:

One may not fairly talk of reminiscences here since Gaudier never returned to Orléans after 1910, but it must be acknowledged that the little Gallo-Roman dancer has the same limb movement, especially the arm over the head, which we find in several of Gaudier's nude figures.

‘The Dancer’ is one of three works on the theme of dancing executed by Gaudier. The first such work was entitled ‘The Firebird’ 1912 and depicts a man and a woman dancing in Stravinsky's ballet of the same name which was being performed in London to great acclaim at that time by Diaghelev's ‘Ballets Russes’. This sculpture is far more static than ‘The Dancer’. Gaudier also executed a ‘Wrestler’ in the same year. The other sculpture on the theme of dancing is ‘Red Stone Dancer’ 1914 (N04515).

Schiff purchased ‘The Dancer’ for £10. Gaudier wrote to Schiff:

I am naturally glad that Mme Schiff likes the statuette. It is a sincere expression of a certain disposition of my mind, but you must know that it is by no means the simplest nor the last. The consistency in me lies in the design, and the quality of surface - whereas the treatment of the planes tends to overshadow it (Ede, p.178)

This might suggest that Gaudier was beginning to concern himself more with the organisation of planes rather than with naturalistic representation, a concern which would be important in the creation of ‘Red Stone Dancer’ 1914 (N04515).

In the Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture catalogue of the Tate Gallery a text by Ezra Pound has been erroneously interpreted as describing T03726. It actually describes N04514. similarly, Cole writes that ‘The Dancer’ was recorded by Gaudier in his ‘List of Works’ which he compiled on 14 July 1914. This list is in the archives at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge and the entry for ‘The Dancer’ is written in pencil in the hand of H.S. Ede. All other entries are in ink in the hand of Gaudier. In the Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture catalogue of the Tate Gallery T03726 was described as having been transferred to the gallery in 1952 and was given an accession number (6092). According to records at the Victoria and Albert Museum this work was transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1952 only on ‘permanent long loan’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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