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Researching Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in the Archive of Modern Conflict

Marie-France Kittler, Assistant Curator

As part of my research for New Rhythms, I was directed towards the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) as a potential source for Henri Gaudier-Brzeska archive material. Visiting the archive was rather like entering an Aladdin’s cave, with books, posters and archive boxes covering every surface of the walls of this grand and labyrinthine yet distinctly contemporary and welcoming West London house. I was invited to sit in the main office at a very large table while I waited for an assistant to bring me two deep archive boxes of manuscripts, letters and photographs to look through. After a couple of hours with the material, I selected two photographic portraits of the artist by Walter Benington, two postcards and two letters as the key items that would provide invaluable contextual information for the exhibition.

The selected letters not only place Gaudier in the trenches– with detailed reports of the morbid and dank conditions– they also show that Gaudier was still thinking about and making art while he was serving as a corporal during World War One. In one letter to the artist Edward Wadsworth he requests to be sent a sketchbook and pencil; in another he mentions a small statuette that he has carved.

Of particular interest amongst the objects that we didn’t select were letters between his partner Sophie Brzeska and a patron, highlighting a financial disagreement regarding a cast of Gaudier’s sculpture Madonna (Maria Carmi as the Madonna, 1912); the original painted plaster cast is part of Kettle’s Yard’s permanent collection. In another letter from Gaudier to the curator of Leeds Art Gallery, Frank Rutter, requesting the return of his sculptures after the end of an exhibition, we learn of Gaudier’s professional links to Leeds– links that will be re-explored this summer by the tour of New Rhythms to Harewood House.

The Archive of Modern Conflict is a private collection of material relating to the history of war, consisting primarily of photographs, but also manuscripts and objects. As well as contributing to and curating exhibitions, AMC encourages its archive to be used for research purposes. AMC also publishes photography books that reflect the various themes of its diverse collection. For more information on AMC publications you can visit www.amcbooks.com.

I hope that you will enjoy discovering the material that is currently on show in New Rhythms until 21 June. If you are interested in learning more about Gaudier’s life, join us for a talk by Dr. Evelyn Silber, author of the Gaudier catalogue raisonné, on 6 June, 6­­–8pm, find out more.