Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Horace Brodzky, Kilburn artist

This famous painter and illustrator lived in Kilburn for much of his life, and the neighbourhood and its people feature in several of his paintings.
Horace Asher Brodzky
Horace Brodzky had many local addresses. In 1926 he was at 22a St George’s Road (later renamed Priory Terrace) having moved to Number 26 by 1928. In 1930 he was in Mowbray Road and a year later, at 102 Brondesbury Villas. After a period in Furness Road in Willesden he returned to Kilburn, to 9 Oxford Road from at least 1939 to 1959, before shifting a few doors down the street to Number 37, where he lived from 1963 to 1965. The last few years of his life were spent at 19 Warwick Crescent W2, where he died in 1969.
Artist's house in Kilburn, Brodzky 1931, (probably 102 Brondesbury Villas)

Horace was born in Melbourne in 1885, into a literary and intellectual family. His Polish father Maurice was a journalist with several Australian newspapers before he founded the magazine, ‘Table Talk’. This was a weekly mixture of politics, finance, literature, arts and social notes, and was highly successful during the 1880s and 90s. But when Maurice became more outspoken about corruption in business and government, he was sued in 1902. He lost the case and the damages forced him into bankruptcy. The family moved to San Francisco in 1904.

Four years later they came to London. It was here that 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 Walter Sickert at the Allied Artists’ Association in July 1908. He regularly attended the ‘Saturday afternoon’ held by Sickert in his Fitzroy Street studio and before long he was part of the artistic and literary set which met in the CafĂ© Royal.

During this time Brodzky travelled to Rome, Naples and Sicily with his friend the American poet John Gould Fletcher. Here he encountering the works of Piero della Francesca who he always said was the greatest influence on his art. Brodzky held his first exhibition in his Chelsea studio, entitled ‘Paintings and Sketches of Italian and Sicilian Scenes’, and one of these was chosen 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. By now he was part of an important group of Jewish artists living in London that included Jacob Kramer, David Bomberg, Alferd Wolmark, Mark Gertler and Jacob Epstein. But his most important friendship was with the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who made a bronze bust of Brodzky in 1913, (now in the Tate collection). Twenty years later Brodzky wrote a major biography of Gaudier-Brzeska.

Horace Brodzky, bronze by Gaudier-Brzeska, 1913 (Tate)

Brodzky worked in three media: painting, draining and printmaking. In addition to woodcuts, Brodzky also used linoleum for his printing blocks and was the first to do so in this country. He produced bold, powerful black and white images.

In 1915 after the death of Gaudier-Brzeska, 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. Brodzky’s portfolio of 21 linoprints was published in New York in 1920.

His work was remarkable for its diversity: caricature (an advertisement for a book on G.B. Shaw), humour (cover designs for the magazines Playboy and The Quill), and stylish designs for book jackets (these included works by some of the leading writers of the day, including Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair). Nevertheless he was struggling. He worked as a waiter, an artist’s model and journalist to make ends meet, editing the magazines Rainbow and Art Review.

In December 1919 he met and married Bertha Greenfield who was working as a nanny in New York, and they had three sons. They moved to London in 1923 and he was included in the London Group Retrospective in 1928 and in Claude Flight’s ‘First Exhibition of British Linocuts’ in 1929.
Bridge Street Kilburn, by Brodzky 1947

The 1920s and 30s were a particularly difficult time for Brodzky, when for ten years he taught art two nights a week at an L.C.C evening school in Bermondsey. After financial problems contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to Bertha in 1934, Brodzky carried on working and the following year critic and art historian, James Laver, published ‘Forty Drawings by Horace Brodzky’. In 1937 Brodzky shared an exhibition with David Bomberg and Margarete Hamerschlag at the Foyle Gallery.
1946 saw the publication of his book on the painter Jules Pascin and in 1948 he became the art editor of the Antique Dealer and Collector’s Guide, a magazine founded by his brother Vivian. This provided a small but regular income until 1962.
Kilburn Roll-call, 1956 (probably men waiting to be chosen for casual labour)

In 1963 the writer and art collector, Ruth Borchard bought a pen and ink self portrait of Brodzky for 12 guineas.

Self portrait, Brodzky, 1963

He wrote her letters which set out his difficult circumstances:
‘I am living more like a recluse with advancing age’. (He was then seventy-eight). He continued:
‘Since 1911, I have been connected with the London art world and have exhibited at all important exhibitions… and have worked for modern art. … For a long time I have sold none of my work and 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.’

Brodzky lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his work and he died on 11 February 1969. The Times published an obituary on the 17th.

Today his work is in many collections around the world, including:
Tate Gallery, London
Victoria and Albert Museum
British Museum, London
Arts Council, London
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Museum of Modern Art, New York Public Library
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and other many regional galleries

1 comment:

  1. My late uncle was a friend of Horace Brodzky. I recall him telling me H.B. had a unique style, but was always near broke, and used to paint or draw houses around Kilburn & Maida Vale, then try to sell them to the occupiers! He left me some original linocuts from 1920s which are prized possessions. I would love to contact some of H.B.'s descendants if they see this. I'm on FaceBook, TIM PIERCY, WD4 England