Not on display

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915
Marble on stone base
Object: 252 × 98 × 77 mm
Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983

Display caption

Alongside his avant-garde work, Gaudier also made more traditional and classical sculptures. The white marble and rounded forms of this torso link it to the classical tradition. The piece also demonstrates
the artist''s skill at carving at an early age.


Like the bronze Dancer, shown to the
right it was modelled on the painter Nina Hamnett, who was a friend of Gaudier.
Her autobiography was entitled The Laughing Torso.


Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03731 Torso 1914

Grey veined white marble on a base of Tinos marble 9 7/8 × 3 7/8 × 3(252 × 98 × 77), dimensions do not include base
Not inscribed
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Presented by Sophie Brzeska to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1915 (A. 96–1915)
Exh: The First Exhibition of the London Group, Goupil Gallery, March–April 1914 (115); 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 (23, repr. pl.4); Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, July–September 1973 (109); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891–1915, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, July 1977 (78); Rodin Rediscovered, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., June 1981–May 1982 (360, as ‘Female Torso I’); 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 (54)
Lit: Ezra Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska a Memoir, 1916, p.169 (repr. pl XII as ‘Torse’); Roger Fry, ‘Gaudier-Brzeska’, Burlington Magazine, XXIX, August 1916, pp.209–10; Stanley Casson, Some Modern Sculptors, 1928, p.98; H.S. Ede, A Life of Gaudier-Brzeska, 1930, pp.177 and 200–1 (repr. pl. XXXIX); Nina Hamnett, Laughing Torso, 1932, pp.39–40 (repr. as frontispiece); E.H. Ramsden, Sculpture: Theme and Variations, 1953, p.32 (repr. pl.57); Mervyn Levy, Gaudier-Brzeska Drawings and Sculpture, 1965, p.13; Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, August–September 1972, pp.20–1 (repr. pl.4); Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 1975, I, p.167 (repr.); Roger Cole, Burning to Speak. The Life and Art of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Oxford, 1978, pp.32 and 78 (repr.); Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sculptor 1891–1915, exhibition catalogue, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, October–November 1983, p.30 and catalogue entry 54; Also repr: A Memorial Exhibition of the Work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, exhibition catalogue, Leicester Galleries, May–June 1918, facing p.7; Herbert Read, The Art of Sculpture, 1956, pl.193

In the autumn of 1915 Sophie Brzeska offered to present to the Victoria and Albert Museum a collection of twelve drawings and ‘Torso’ by the late Henri Gaudier-Brzeska to whom she referred as her ‘brother’. She wrote in a letter to the museum that Gaudier had regularly visited it. On 16 November the gift was accepted. Twelve further drawings were turned down and returned to Ezra Pound who, to some extent, was acting as an agent for Sophie, particularly in regard to purchases by the American lawyer, John Quinn. Sophie Brzeska's contact with the museum continued until 1922 when she was certified ‘lunatic’. The museum stored a number of sculptures for her both during and after the First World War when she was living principally at Wotton under Edge, Gloucestershire. At the time of giving the ‘Torso’ she was living at 185 Munster Road, London SW6.

The ‘Torso’ can be seen both as an answer to Gaudier's critics who disliked his primitive, modernistic approach to sculpture and as the culmination of an ambition to make a sculpture in the classical style. On 3 June 1911 he wrote to Sophie Brzeska: ‘I long to make a statue of a single body, and absolute, truthful copy - something so true it will live when it is made even as the model himself lives’ (Ede, p.64). He described the ‘Torso’ to Major Smythies, of whom he had made a portrait bust, as ‘a marble statue of a girl in a natural way, in order to show my accomplishment as a sculptor’ (Ede, p.177). Smythies had apparently criticised Gaudier's more abstract work and Gaudier continued: ‘We are of different opinions about naturalism. I treat it as hollow accomplishment, the artificial is full of metaphysical meaning which is all important.’

Gaudier spent many hours making drawings after sculpture by Michelangelo at the beginning of the decade but never produced such a naturalistic work other than the portrait busts. In his list of works he dates the ‘Torso’ to the year 1914. Cole disagrees with this dating but does not give reasons. There seems to be no reason, however, to doubt Gaudier's dating.

Gaudier records that the sculpture was a ‘Portrait of the painter Nina Hamnett’ who describes, in Laughing Torso, the circumstances surrounding the making of this piece. She met Gaudier in 1913 during his exhibition of drawings at Dan Rider's bookshop and arranged to have lessons in sculpture from him. She relates that:

One day he came to my room and said, ‘I am very poor and I want to do a torso, will you sit for me?’ I said, ‘I don't know, perhaps I look awful with nothing on’, and he said ‘Don't worry’. I went one day to his studio in Fulham Road and took off all my clothes. I turned round slowly and he did drawings of me ... From the drawings he did two torsos.

She also records that he stole the marble from a stonemason's yard in Putney.

Cork remarks that ‘Torso’ is ‘a polished imitation of a Greek original - extended even to the broken arms and neck’, although he probably does not intend to imply by this that Gaudier actually copied a particular sculpture. The torso is executed in grey veined white marble which Gaudier records as Sicilian. Two casts have been posthumously made of this marble; one is in the collection of Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, the other is in the collection of the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Gaudier made at least two other torsos of which he listed one, namely a torso in Seravezza marble purchased by Olivia Shakespeare, the mother-in-law of Ezra Pound, now in a private collection in Italy. The other torso was made in clay and cast in plaster. According to Cole two plaster casts were made from the aforementioned plaster; one was given to Alfred Wolmark (now in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans) and the other was given to Horace Brodzky. An unrecorded number of bronze casts have been made posthumously from these plasters.

The catalogue to the Memorial exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries in May–June 1918 lists a plaster cast of ‘Torso’ as having been exhibited (8). This is unlikely. Either T03731 was exhibited as no. 8 or one of the plasters described above was mistaken for a cast of T03731. It seems likely that T03731 was exhibited, since it was illustrated in the catalogue, although records at the Victoria and Albert Museum do not indicate that it was lent.

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


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