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Design for Vorticist Ornament, 1914

The Vorticists were the first British artists to show a committed interest in abstraction. Gaudier, who was the only sculptor actively involved in the movement, came to abstraction from various angles. On the one hand he drew inspiration from non-Western art, in particular the simplification of human features he found in tribal artefacts from Africa and Oceania. On the other hand he shared with many artists of his time a fascination with the imagery of the machine as a symbol of industrialisation and the fast pace of modern life.

Gaudier combined these diverse influences to create a style based on the reduction of natural forms to basic geometrical structures, both in two and three dimensions. Design for a Vorticist Ornament is a useful example. The figure’s eye becomes a triangle, limbs are turned into saw-like implements and the body resembles a piece of machinery rather than a living being.

Gaudier’s abstract designs often echo the paintings of other Vorticists, in particular Wyndham Lewis. This drawing, which does not relate to a specific sculpture, is typical in its menacing appearance and sinister feel.

Drawing [HGB 36]

Displayed

Charcoal on paper

470 x 315 mm

About the artist

Henri Gaudier was born in St. Jean de Braye, near Orleans, in France. He first came to Britain in 1908. He met Sophie Brzeska while working as a student in the evenings at Ste. Genevieve Library in Paris in 1910. In the same year he left France under a cloud of social hostility and settled in England adding the name Brzeska to his own soon after. He worked in isolation until he met Middleton Murray in 1912, whereafter he built up a circle of artists and intellectuals which included Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis and T. E. Hulme. He became involved in Pound's and Lewis' Vorticist group, contributing to the two issues of their magazine Blast. Gaudier was killed in action during the First World War in Belgium.