2 September 2016
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Female torso, 1913
‘I long to make a statue of a single body, an absolutely truthful copy – something so true that it will live when it is made.’
Gaudier Brzeska, 1911
Who was the model?
Artist and model Nina Hamnett is now best remembered as the ‘Queen’ of bohemian London. During the early twentieth century, however, Hamnett was a promising young artist, exhibiting her work with the Allied Artists’ Association, the New English Art Club and the London Group and teaching at the Westminster School of Art. Her talent, sociable nature and striking appearance made her a popular figure in avant-garde artistic society and brought her to the attention of some of the most significant artists of the day. In 1932 she published reminiscences and anecdotes about her unusual life in an autobiography, The Laughing Torso, the title of which is derived from Gaudier’s sculpture of her. Find out more.
In The Laughing Torso Hamnett speaks of her admiration for Gaudier’s sculptures and describes her numerous sittings as a model for him in his studio. 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.
About the artist
‘Described as ‘a wild unkempt barbarian’ by Richard Aldington a ‘bright-eyed wild thing’ by Ezra Pound, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) was one of the leading figures of European avant-garde sculpture. He played an important role in the development of modern sculpture in Britain, working alongside Ezra Pound, Jacob Epstein, Roger Fry, Wyndham Lewis and others.
About this work
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. Find out more.