Andrew Smith, Visitor Assistant
This small statuette sits on a shelf in an alcove above the stairs in the extension. Unlike any other sculpture in Kettle’s Yard, it is positioned beyond the reach of visitors; a simple barrier ensures that no one can get closer than two metres.
Pyramidal in shape, dark in colour; she might be sitting on a throne but it is concealed by her mantle. Her head inclined to the right, an expression of serene calm on her face. Hands held apart on her lap. She is different in character from anything else in the room yet, for me, she sets the mood. Looking back toward the cottages I see her face reflected in the pose of the Javanese puppet. Often visitors are puzzled. Is this something from a church or convent? How old is it? It looks ancient. What is it made of? Is it stone, wood, bronze?
In fact it’s painted plaster. Made by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in February 1912. Many of the sculptures in Kettle’s Yard are by Gaudier, but this is different in character from his other works; more static, more grounded. It was his first commission. The subject is an actress; Maria Carmi, in her role as the Madonna in a multimedia spectacular that drew huge crowds to London’s Olympia – Max Rheinhardt’s The Miracle. The Times described her performance as ‘the most affecting and lovely thing in the whole show.’ Gaudier was taken to one of Carmi’s last performances. It took him a while to get into the mood but at last made some good drawings of the Madonna, though he wasn’t close enough to get a good likeness.
He modelled in clay for two weeks before making a plaster cast.
You can ask one of the Visitor Assistants to show you the publicity photos from the film.