Self-portrait with a pipe (1), 1913
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a very prolific draughtsman: he sketched restlessly in drawing classes, museums, parks and the streets of London. In 1911 he wrote about these trips: “I always have about ten ‘kids’ around me when I am drawing. They are obviously astonished at my behaviour … I work in a style which intrigues them a great deal, because I do not draw; instead of drawing the figure straight away, as they are used to seeing everyone else do, I draw square boxes altering the size, one for each plane, and then suddenly by drawing a few lines between the boxes they can see the figure appear.” This account dovetails with Gaudier’s definition of modern sculpture published in the Vorticist journal Blast in 1914: “Sculptural energy is the mountain. Sculptural feeling is the appreciation of masses in relation. Sculptural ability is the defining of these masses by planes.”
Gaudier regularly used drawing as a means to explore ideas for his three-dimensional work. Portraiture and self-portraiture were one of his preferred genres for technical experimentation throughout his brief career. At the time he made the three Self-Portraits with a Pipe (1913), Gaudier was considering a shift from modelling in plaster to direct carving in stone, and exploring formal languages ranging from Post-Impressionism to Fauvism, Futurism and Cubism (Picasso and Matisse’s work had been recently exhibited in London).
These portraits offer a fascinating synthesis of caricature, realism and geometric abstraction, showing the progressive transformation from a naturalistic to an almost Cubist image, with characteristic facetting of masses, crisp geometry and careful hatchings and striations. Gaudier self-consciously announces himself as an avant-garde artist, an indication of his increasing confidence and ambition by 1913. His bowler hat, at a jaunty angle, and pipe clenched between his teeth display his contempt for the “bloody bourgeois” of late Edwardian society.
Provenance: Sophie Brzeska’s Estate; purchased by H.S. Ede from the Treasury, 1927.
Drawing [HGB 95]
Graphite on paper
475 x 310 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.