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Wrestlers relief, 1913 (posthumous cast, 1965)

In 1912 Gaudier-Brzeska was introduced to the London Wrestling Club by Charles Wheeler, a Birmingham manufacturer who had commissioned statuettes of a wrestler and a bather from him. Wrestling soon became a favoured subject of Gaudier’s, as witnessed by a letter of 1912: “Last night I went to see the wrestlers – God! I have seldom seen anything so lovely – two athletic types, large shoulders, taut, big necks like bulls, small in the build with firm thighs and slender ankles, feet sensitive as hands, and not tall.”

Gaudier worked on the modelled sculpture for Wheeler shortly afterwards, while the carved plaster relief at Kettle’s Yard dates from about a year later. In it the sculptor treated the figures in an aggressively primitivising manner, executing their outlines by means of the trademark sinuous line which he had developed in his drawing. The relief relates closely to a number of sketches from life on display at Kettle’s Yard, mediating between drawing and fully three-dimensional sculpture. In spite of the energetic subject, the work does not yet display the vigorous dynamism of Gaudier’s later Vorticist pieces; he was at this time involved in the activities of the Omega Workshops, for which he designed an inlaid wooden tray quite close in style to the Wrestlers.

The original plaster relief was part of Sophie Brzeska’s Estate acquired by Jim Ede from the Treasury in 1927. It remained with Ede until around 1965, when he donated it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Before the transfer nine casts were made, two of which remain at Kettle’s Yard.

Provenance: commissioned by H.S. Ede from John W. Mills, June 1965 (no.3 of 9 casts).

[HGB 3]

Displayed

Herculite cast

725 x 915 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.