Horace Brodzky was an Australian artist of Jewish ancestry who produced some of his best work in America and lived most of his life in London. As this suggests, he led a mouvementé life.
“The influences in his work are various and range from Piero della Francesca to Vorticism and Mark Gertler. His friendships are also reflected in his art, especially those with Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jules Pascin. It is interesting that Gaudier-Brzeska abandoned naturalism when he sculpted his famous bust of Brodzky and in the forehead area introduced a semi-cubist facetting of form. In this bumpy passage it is tempting to see a metaphor for the fragmented nature of Brodzky’s life”.
Born in Melbourne in 1885, into a literary and intellectual Jewish family, Horace Brodzky studied for a while at the National Gallery of Victoria School. His father was a journalist and founded the magazine, Table Talk but was bankrupted and he sailed with his family for San Francisco.
It was in London that Horace Brodzky’s career as an artist really began. In 1911 he briefly attended the City and Guilds School in Kennington. More important, however, was his meeting with Sickert at the Allied Artists’Association in July 1908. He went regularly to the “Saturday afternoons” held by Sickert in his Fitzroy Street studio and before long has become part of the artistic and literary Bohemia which met in the Café Royal. He celebrated its interior in one of his paintings and found here a milieu that suited his gregarious nature. He held his first exhibition in his Chelsea studio, entitled “Paintings and Sketches of Italian and Sicilian Scenes” that caught the attention of the critic P.G Konody who chose one of these paintings for inclusion in the British representation at the Venice Biennale of 1912.
In 1914, a work by Brodzky was included in the Jewish section in the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s survey of developments in contemporary art. He was by now part of a “congerie” of Jewish artists living in London, among them Jacob Kramer, David Bomberg, Alferd Wolmark, Mark Gertler and Jacob Epstein. But the most important friendship, though short lived, was with Gaudier-Brzeska whose biography he published in 1933.
In addition to woodcuts Brodzky also used linoleum for the printing block and was the first to do so in this country. In the medium of the linocut he made dazzling play with positive and negative shapes, at one moment registering as a flat pattern, at the next reasserting its representational content. Brodzky’s superb inventiveness with this medium is perhaps best seen in Expulsion, Jug and Bather. These and other of his linocuts invite comparison with the woodcuts of the German Expressionists and are on a level with the best of these.
In 1915, he moved to New York, with letters of introduction to the lawyer and art patron, John Quinn. The next eight years were stimulating and productive. At Quinn’s request he acted as Clerk of Works to the Vorticist Exhibition held at the Penguin Club in 1917 after which the divisioning of form in some of his linocuts, such as Dazzle Ships and Dansant (cat.no.79) has a more geometric flavour. His portfolio of 21 linoprints entitled “A portfolio of linoleum cuts by Horace Brodzky” was published in New York in 1920 by Egmont Arens. The work he produced in New York is remarkable for its diversity. His skill at caricature can be seen in his advertisement for Archibald Henderson’s book on G.B.Shaw. His cover designs for the magazines Playboy and The Quill achieve a humorous effect with the minimum of means. He also produced book jackets for some of the leading writers of the day, among them Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair. And his Penguin Stag can be discerned the witty delight he took in the life of Greenwich Village. Nevertheless he was struggling to make ends meet and worked as a waiter and an artist’s model. Journalism also provided him with an income and he edited the magazines Rainbow and Art Review, his first article on Gaudier-Brzeska appearing in the latter.
He returned to London in 1923. Though he was included in the London Group Retrospective in 1928 and in Claude Flight’s “First Exhibition of British Linocuts” in 1929 – which was the last time during his lifetime that his works in this difficult medium were exhibited – the 1920s and ‘30s were difficult years. He taught art two nights a week at an L.C.C evening school in Bermondsey. Like many artists during the 1920s, he returned in his painting to a more naturalistic style. “Rugged Landscape of 1933 contains a mood of gentleness and foreboding with the soft undulations and, in places the delicate Cezannesque hatching is combined with the kind of subdued light, which suggests chill and unease”.
Financial strain was an element in the breakdown of his marriage during the early 1930’s. At the same time Brodzky began writing his book on Gaudier-Brzeska (published by Faber and Faber in 1933), the sculptor’s example reviving Brodzky’s interest in outline drawing with pen and ink, and with which he masterfully distilled the flow of forms. Even in penurious conditions Brodzky carried on to create. In 1935 the critic and art historian, James Laver, published Forty Drawings by Horace Brodzky and in 1937 Brodzky shared an exhibition with two others at the Foyle Gallery in Charing Cross Road.
After the war he seems to have prospered more by his pen than by his brush. 1946 saw the publication of his book on Jules Pascin and in 1948 he took up regular employment with the Antique Dealer and Collector’s Guide, a magazine founded by his brother Vivian.
– Agi Katz, Curator of Boundary Gallery
“Brodzky is well known as the man who documented the lives and work of others, but he is also in his own right an artist of considerable stature. He continued working within a modernist tradition at a time when the tide was against him, marrying a formalist approach with representational interest that result in a pictoral unconventionality. Many of his late works are surprisingly contemporary in feeling, combined with his gift for simplicity, makes him a figure of lasting importance”.
– Frances Spalding
Frances Spalding is the author of several books including “British Art since 1900” and biographies of Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Stevie Smith. She also writes book and art criticism for the Times Literary Supplement, and Independent and the Sunday Times