Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and abstraction

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and abstraction

What can we learn from one artist and his development towards abstraction?

Gaudier-Brzeska died very young in the trenches of the First World War but in the four years before the war that he spent in London his work developed remarkably quickly. Despite his early death he became a very influential figure in 20th-century sculpture in England and France. Why was he so influential and what can we learn today from his artistic development?

Key Stage:

KS3-4 Art and Design


This lesson can be used:
-to start a sculpture project,
-to develop drawing skills and use of sketchbooks to develop ideas
-to gain an understanding of the routes of abstraction
-to gain an understanding of the influence of other cultures on European artists

<b>Suggested Classroom Activity</b>

Suggested Classroom Activity

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a French artist who came to London in 1911 at the age of 20 without any formal art training. He was influenced by the work of Jacob Epstein and was friendly with the painter Wyndham Lewis and the poet Ezra Pound, who together created The Vorticist movement. They developed an art that engaged with the modern world.  The paintings and drawings they made are characterised by a very dynamic, diagonal, angular forms, often in very bright colours.
<b>Two self portraits</b>

Two self portraits

Compare these two self portraits. The first was painted in 1909 before he came to England and the second in 1912 after two years of contact with artists and art collections in London. Look closely at the way the two paintings treat the head and the background and list four differences between the two works. The fact he has grown a beard and is wearing a hat will not be counted.
<b>Two carved sculptures</b>

Two carved sculptures

Gaudier-Brzeska studied artworks in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum and developed an interest in work from West Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Compare these two carved sculptures. The first is a relief carved stone sculpture in Bath stone and was made in 1912. It maybe one of his first stone carving works and is quite roughly carved and shows the marks of the tools.

The second sculpture is called Red Stone Dancer and was carved just a year later in 1913. This work is carved in Red Mansfield stone and the surface is much smoother and the tools marks have largely been removed. You can see how the depiction of the figure has changed and the increased use of straight lines and a simplification or abstraction of the figure.
Which of these sculptures is most realistic?

Which of these sculptures is most powerful?

Which one would you most like to own?


Make a drawing of a friend in a pose of your choosing. Make this first drawing by looking at your life model and try and keep the proportions of the figure correct. Then working from your drawing only, quickly redraw the figure removing detail and simplifying the shapes. Make this drawing three or four more times in your sketchbook, each time making it simpler until you only have the essential elements of the pose.

Now self assess your work.

Have you kept the essential elements?

Have you made the figure more sculptural than your original drawing?

Is the figure more dynamic than your first drawing from life?

Now look at the two self portraits by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska again...is your opinion of the works the same as before?

Development Activity:

CultureStreet has made a short Review film in which young people investigate two stone carvings of women by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and fellow sculptor Frank Dobson.

Find out what young people think about the two works, both of which are in the Hull University Art Collection, and then compare and contrast the two sculptures yourselves.

Learning Objectives:

Through using this lesson plan students should:
-Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating critical understanding of sources.
-learn about the history of art, craft, design and architecture, including periods, styles and major movements from ancient times up to the present day.
-use a range of techniques to record their observations in sketchbooks, journals and other media as a basis for exploring their ideas
-analyse and evaluate their own work, and that of others, in order to strengthen the visual impact or applications of their work. In addition know and understand how sources inspire the development of ideas. For example, drawing on: the work and approaches of artists, craftspeople or designers from contemporary and/or historical contexts, periods, societies and cultures

Research, Notes and Links:

Find out more about the artists development with this resource from Tate. TateShots: Gaudier Brzeska's Sketchbook.