A Gentler Feeling
Red Stone Dancer – he sculpts,
Because sometimes, you have to carve out what you feel to understand life.
Creating the Centena.
Kettles Yard in Cambridge is one of my favourite places. The former home of Jim Ede, the founder of the Tate Britain, it is filled with the artwork he collected during his lifetime. His bedroom on the top floor is dedicated to the work of Henri Gaudier Brzeska, a prolific sculptor and artist who died at 1pm on June 5th 1915 at Neuville St. Vaast, France.
He was 23-years-old.
I felt upset about his poignantly brief career and I wanted to know more. I read the Savage Messiah, a book by Jim Edes based on the letters between Henri and his lover Sophie Brzeska. Twenty years older than him, he took her surname. (This book was also made into a film of the same title by Ken Russell.) The Imperial War Museum shared more information on how he had died and a piece of writing he wrote in the trenches. I read more via Kettles Yard. I tracked down more of his works in the Tate Britain and saw his self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.
I was astonished by how prolific Henri had been in just four years as an artist. He drew at an amazing rate – he described doing 150 drawings in an evening at a life class while his fellow students executed two or three.
Even on the front line, Henri was sculpting. A few days before he died, he wrote:
“Two days ago I pinched from an enemy a mauser rifle. Its heavy unwieldy shape swamped me with a powerful image of brutality. I was in doubt for a long time whether it pleased me or displeased me. I found that I did not like it. I broke the butt off and with my knife I carved in it a design, through which I tried to express a gentler order of things, which I preferred.”
This gave me the poem’s title and most important line, ‘A Gentler Feeling’. And my three first and final words, “Red Stone Dancer’ , came from one of his most famous sculptures.
Henri was a fledgling artist of great promise who could have been another Picasso or Rodin or Henry Moore if he’d had more time. He’s yet another example of this raw, bright talent, these flared-match, life-full young men who were snatched away from their promises and potential and all the might-have-beens. Yet, in this too-short- four-year-window, Henri Gaudier-Bzreska carved beauty and meaning from stone again and again and again.