Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

The Idiot


Not on display

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
Painted plaster
Object: 182 × 144 × 170 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

Display caption

This sculpture, which is made from plaster, has the immediacy of a sketch. The distortions of the head betray the artist’s nascent interest in Cubist faceting of surfaces. The title may come from the sitter’s cross-eyed expression, and one close friend of the artist identified the head as a satirical self-portrait. It was first exhibited with the title Head of a Jew.

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

T03730 The Idiot c.1912

Plaster 7 1/8 × 5 1/2 × 6 1/2 (181 × 140 × 165)
Not inscribed
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Haldane McFall; Zwemmer Gallery before June 1943; presented by Anton Zwemmer to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1951 (Circ. 47–1951)
Exh: A Memorial Exhibition of the Work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Leicester Galleries, May–June 1918 (21, as ‘Head of an Idiot’); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) Sculptures, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, August–September 1972, City Art Gallery, Leeds, September–October 1972, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, October–November 1972 (14, as ‘Head of an Idiot’); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, July 1977 (77); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sculptor 1891–1915, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, October–November 1983, City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, November 1983–January 1984, York City Art Gallery, January–February 1984 (13, as ‘Head of an Idiot’)
Lit: H.S. Ede, A Life of Gaudier-Brzeska, 1930, p.205; R.H. Wilenski, foreword to Drawings and Sculptures by Some Contemporary Sculptors, exhibition catalogue, Zwemmer Gallery, November–December 1930 (n.p.); Mervyn Levy, Gaudier-Brzeska Drawings and Sculpture, 1965, p.29; Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, August–September 1972, p.18; Roger Cole, Burning to Speak. The Life and Art of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Oxford, 1978, pp.28 and 65 (bronze cast repr.); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sculptor 1891–1915, exhibition catalogue, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, October–November 1983, p.36 and catalogue entry 13

According to the catalogue of the exhibition of work by Roy de Maistre and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska held at Temple Newsam, Leeds (June–August 1943), there are two plaster versions of this work; one belonged to Alan Fraser and, before that, to Claud Lovat Fraser as recorded by Cole, and the other one belonged to Haldane McFall. T03730 is the latter.

According to Cole this work is to be considered as a satirical self-portrait but it has also been referred to as ‘Head of a Jew’. He states that Fraser's version was exhibited at Dan Rider's bookshop in St Martin's Court, off Charing Cross Road, under this title. Wilenski, in 1930, wrote that he thought he could ‘discern the outline of the sculptor's own features’ in the work, which appears to be one of the earliest references to the notion of the self-portrait. Cole suggests that ‘it was the subject of much ridicule between [Gaudier] and Fraser’. In the catalogue to the exhibition at Kettle's Yard, Lewison notes the resemblance between T03730 and Rodin's portrait of Baudelaire of 1898.

Cole states that seven casts of this sculpture were made in bronze. They were executed posthumously. The Temple Newsam catalogue states that six casts were made for Zwemmer. Ede dates the work to 1914 but this is unlikely from a stylistic point of view. Furthermore Gaudier rarely modelled sculpture after the beginning of 1914.

This work does not appear in Gaudier's list of works.

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

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