Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Savage Messiah by H.S.Ede

‘When I face the beauty of nature, I am no longer sensitive to art, but in the town I appreciate its myriad benefits—the more I go into the woods and the fields the more distrustful I become of art and wish all civilization to the devil; the more I wander about amidst filth and sweat the better I understand art and love it; the desire for it becomes my crying need.’ Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

J.S.Ede’s book is based largely on Henri’s letters, mainly those to Sophie Brzeska but including some to family and friends, which Ede obtained from Sophie’s estate after her death in 1925. Henri and Sophie’s intense and complex relationship, begun when he was eighteen and she over twice his age, must surely rank as one of the most interesting and enigmatic in the annals of human relationships. Their symbiotic interdependence was so complete that he ‘annexed’ her name to his own and thereafter was known as Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. In their relationship, ostensibly platonic, the roles of mother-and-child/brother-and sister/loving friends were played out endlessly, yet expressed, always, in the most passionately loving terms.

Henri’s letters detail his everyday concerns and activities, intimately interwoven with his work and artistic development. He and Sophie lived together and supported each other through periods of the direst poverty and deprivation. When they were apart, most often because of illness or, in Sophie’s case, the need to earn money, for example as a governess, they constantly exchanged letters although Sophie’s to Henri seem not to have survived.

Henri was killed in the trenches at the start of the First World War. Sophie never recovered from this loss and died in an asylum in 1925.

I haven’t seen Ken Russell’s 1972 film based on Ede’s book.
The picture is of a work by Henri: Ornamental Mask. Painted bronze. 1910.