In a letter to Ruth Borchard (sent from Kilburn, London NW6) – dated ‘Apr 63’, apparently also the date of the self-portrait bought by Ruth for twelve guineas – Horace Brodzky wrote:
Do you know my?
- Forty Drawings: text by James Laver
- Biography of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
- Biography of Jules Pascin.
Further correspondence in 1963 concerned Ruth’s suggestion that he should offer (as he described it) ‘the Gaudier-Brzeska bust of myself’ (1913) to a museum for £50. Brodzky set out his difficult circumstances: ‘living more like a recluse and with advancing age’, (he was then seventy-eight), he thought the prospect of raising the money from ‘a number of wealthy people’ unlikely (though Ruth had offered to contribute £20).
Since 1911 I have been connected with the London art world & have exhibited at all important exhibitions… and have worked for modern art.
… For a long time I have sold none of my work & have had to rely on selling items by other artists that I have collected… This letter is not an angry complaint but just the plain facts that I thought you might like to know.
The 1963 self-portrait is, characteristically, a taut, delicate and powerful drawing of the artist – not an angry complaining representation of an old, poor man but ‘just the plain facts’, the bare elemental reality of himself. Like his young friend Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a precocious genius of a sculptor and draughtsman whom he befriended in London before the First World War, Brodzky had an uncanny ability to conjure up reality through a few, quick pen strokes. The dignity and directness of this exquisitely simple self-calligraphy, staring straight at us through round, wire-rimmed spectacles, are plain to see.
Horace Brodzky was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1885. He studied at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Art, and moved to the United States in 1904, and then to London in 1908, where he befriended artists like Jacob Epstein, David Bomberg, Jacob Kramer, Isaac Rosenberg and Mark Gertler. He was the first artist in Britain to make linocut pictures (in 1912) – all semi-abstract and vigorously succinct in tone. A 1912 woodcut Self-Portrait is a fearsomely stoic self-image. His later paintings often portray groups of young women, at once monumentally and intimately rendered, in animated rapport.