Gruenebaum Gallery, New York
Frances Whitney, USA and thence by descent
New York, Gruenebaum Gallery, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska 1891-1915: Sculpture and Drawings, September 21 - October 29 1977, cat no.12, illus b/w p14
Gaudier Brzeska was a rebel against convention, a founder member of the Rebel Art Centre of the Vorticists, and contributor to their iconoclastic publication Blast. An early innovator in abstraction, he also absorbed and developed the artistic traditions of "the barbaric peoples of the earth (for whom we have sympathy and admiration)", as he wrote. His drawing, which was an obsession since his childhood, represents, by the last three years of his working life, the culmination of his skills. The swift and sure lines reflect the rapid flow of his ideas, innovative, controversial and at the forefront of the avant-garde.
Mask Head demonstrates Gaudier’s supreme ability to describe form with a minimum of definition and pare down his subject matter into essential planes of description. He spent a great deal of time drawing and studying the primitive carvings and masks in the British Museum and Mask Head would have been inspired by these frequent visits.
Another work, in which this influence is apparent, is Gaudier’s plaster Ornamental Mask (cast in bronze in 1969-70) originally commissioned by the artist and theatre designer Claud Lovat Fraser. Gaudier painted the original plaster for Ornamental Mask with bright colours, commenting on this type of experimentation, which can also be seen in Mask Head, ‘Just as simple and bright as can be, I use the optic mixing of colours - putting them in pure pigments side by side’.
It is suggested in the Gruenebaum Gallery catalogue that this might depict Sophie Brzeska, a Polish writer, ten years his senior, whom he had met in 1910 in the library of Ste. Geneviève, Paris. The two soon became companions and, though their relationship remained unconsummated, Gaudier added her surname to his for the sake of propriety