Constantin Brâncuși

gigatos | January 2, 2022


Constantin Brâncuși († March 16, 1957 in Paris) was a Romanian-French modernist sculptor and photographer of his works around his studio. Brâncuși, who lived and worked in Paris from 1904 after attending the Bucharest Academy of Art, is one of the defining sculptors of the 20th century who, along with Auguste Rodin, whom the artist knew and admired, had a lasting influence on sculpture by breaking with the faithful rendering of objects through reduction. After a traditional-academic beginning of his work, from 1907 onwards his individual style emerged, which was influenced by African and Romanian folk art.

Brâncuși”s sculptural works in bronze, marble, wood and plaster often show abstract egg-shaped heads and flying birds; they are attributed to the avant-garde in fine arts. He realized only a few subjects, which he varied in the tendency of Cubism, with which he came into contact from 1910. With the three-part war memorial in Târgu Jiu from 1938, he achieved the fusion of architecture and sculpture.

Childhood and study

Constantin Brâncuși was born on February 19, 1876 in Hobița from the second marriage of Nicolae Brâncuși († 1919). The father was a wealthy man who managed the lands around Tismana Monastery. He already had three sons from his first marriage and two sons from his second marriage, as well as the daughter Eufrosina, born later, who was born after his death. According to his own account, Brâncuși attended elementary school in Peștișani from 1884 to 1887. In 1887 he ran away from home, reaching Târgu Jiu at the end of March, and first worked for a few months for a dyer named Moscu, with whom he learned to handle vegetable dyes and to dye wool for carpet making. He then worked as a waiter in a café, leaving in 1888 and spending some time in Peștișani with his half-brother Neneal Ion, who ran a tavern. In 1889 Brâncuși moved to Craiova, worked in a general store, and in September 1892 moved to the neighboring town of Slatina, where he found a job with a widowed grocer.

From 1894 Brâncuși studied at the Craiova School of Applied Arts, which he attended until 1898. He then took courses at the Academy of Arts in Bucharest; in the entrance examination he had made a charcoal drawing based on a plaster figure depicting Laocoon, whom he modeled in clay and executed as a plaster in 1900. After being deferred from military conscription in 1898, he had to provide proof of continuing study twice the following year. When he failed to respond to his draft in 1901, he was declared a conscientious objector. In 1902 he received his diploma; however, a certificate authorized him to continue his studies in the Academy”s studio. On April 1, 1902, Brâncuși was called up; however, because of his diploma, he was required to serve only one year instead of the required three. Brâncuși was able to get through this year on sick and special leave with the help of his friend, the painter Jean Alexandru Steriadi, whose father was an administrator and who had put in a good word for the young sculptor. One of his first works, in 1903, was a design in plaster, created in the traditional manner, for a monument to the doctor and general Carol Davila, which a few years later was cast in bronze and placed in front of the Military Hospital in Bucharest. That same year he set off on foot for Paris; he reached the city on July 14, 1904, the national holiday in France, after stopovers in Vienna, Munich – where he worked for a while – and Langres.

Studies in Paris and first exhibitions

In the French capital, Brâncuși initially earned his living as a dishwasher in the Brasserie Chartier. Initially he lived at No. 9 Cité Concorde and in March 1905 moved into a garret at No. 10 Place de la Bourse. Due to financial difficulties, he took a job as an altar boy at the Romanian Orthodox Church on Rue Jean-de-Beauvais for the Easter period. On June 23, after passing an examination and through the mediation of the Council of State and a Romanian envoy, Brâncuși received permission to study at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris, where he studied until 1907 in the sculpture class with Antonin Mercié (1845-1916). On October 27, Brâncuși had to leave his rat-infested attic apartment and moved to No. 16 Place Dauphine. With the plaster sculptures L”Enfant (The Child) and L”Orgeuil (The Pride), he participated for the first time in 1906 in exhibitions at the Salon of the Societé nationale des beaux-arts and at the Salon d”Automne. At another exhibition at the Salon of the Societé nationale des beaux-arts, Brâncuși showed four of his works – the bronze Portrait de Nicolae Drascu as well as the plasters Le Supplice (The Agony) and two children”s heads Tête d”enfant. There he met Auguste Rodin, who exhibited his work L”Homme qui marche (The Striding Man) from 1878.

First studios in Paris

In 1907, Brâncuși left the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts and initially worked for Auguste Rodin in the spring. After a month of working in Rodin”s studio, he summed up: “Il ne pousse rien à l”ombre des grands arbres” (“Nothing grows in the shade of big trees”) and gave up his work there.On April 18, through the intercession of the Romanian painter Ștefan Popescu, he received a commission for a cemetery monument that the widow of a Petro Stanescu wanted erected for her husband at the Dumbrava cemetery in Buzău, Romania. Since Brâncuși envisioned a two-meter-high pedestal for the bust of the deceased for this tomb, he needed a studio on the first floor due to the dimensions of the work and found it in March 1908 at No. 54 Rue du Montparnasse, in the neighborhood of the American painter and photographer Edward Steichen. He lived and worked there until October 10, 1916, the year in which Brâncuși exhibited at the Salon d”Automne and met Baroness Renée Frachon, who modeled for him in several sessions between January 1, 1908 and 1910 for the sculptures La Muse endormie I (The Slumbering Muse I) and La Baronne R. F. (The Baroness R. F.).

In Paris, starting in 1908, a close friendship developed with Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Rousseau, Alexander Archipenko, as well as Amedeo Modigliani, whom Brâncuși had met in 1909 through the art collector Paul Alexandre and who portrayed him in Livorno that same year.

In 1910 Brâncuși met Margit Pogány, a Hungarian painter who was studying in Paris at the time and whom he portrayed, among other things, in the white marble sculpture Mademoiselle Pogány I from 1912. Pogány often commuted between Budapest and Paris, where she always stayed in a boarding house that the sculptor frequented as well. Brâncuși, who was a confirmed bachelor, had an affair with her that ended in a long friendship, as letters from 1911 to 1937 attest.

At Montparnasse Cemetery, the commissioned work Le Baiser (The Kiss) from 1909 was installed in 1911 on the grave of Tanioucha Rashewskaia, who had taken her own life due to an unhappy marriage. In the pedestal of the tomb the sculptor engraved in Cyrillic letters the words “Tanioucha Rashewskaia, born April 6, 1887, died November 22, 1910, dear, lovable, beloved” and planted ivy, a plant for which the artist had a fondness, at the foot of the pedestal.

On May 15, 1912, Brâncuși moved into a second studio at No. 47 rue de Montparnasse, near his first studio across the street, where Margit Pogány posed for him for the marble Mademoiselle Pogány I. With Fernand Léger and Marcel Duchamp, he visited the aeronautical show at the Grand Palais in Paris in the fall of that year, where Brâncuși exclaimed with admiration in front of a propeller, “This is a sculpture! From now on, no sculpture may be inferior to this one.” In response to this notion of Brâncușis of a perfect modern form, Duchamp remarked in the face of technical innovation, “Painting is over. Who could make something better than this propeller? Say, can you make something like that?”

Given the perfect industrial form, the visit had a similar effect on the group as that of the African masks had on Pablo Picasso a little earlier. Brâncușis polished sculptures approached the industrial form, Duchamp abandoned painting and created his first ready-made Roue de bicyclette (Bicycle Wheel), while Léger theorized how art could be made to achieve the beauty of machines.

Participation in artist meetings

From the years 191213 Brâncuși participated in various meetings. For example, he participated in the “Diners de Passy” at the Maison de Balzac – the circle around the writer Guillaume Apollinaire in Rue Raynouard – as well as in the meetings with the artists of the “Puteaux Group”. At one of these meetings, the sculptor Jeanne Augustine met Adrienne Lohy and maintained a friendly relationship with her. Lohy, whom Brâncuși called “Papa,” married Fernand Léger in December 1919. He also took part in the “Tuesday meetings” around the poet Paul Fort, held at the artists” meeting place La Closerie des Lilas, where Fernand Léger, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie and later, around 1918, Germaine Tailleferre and the other composers of the Groupe des Six such as Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc and Louis Durey met.

Works in the Armory Show

In the run-up to the preparations for the major exhibition Armory Show, which was to be held in New York, Arthur B. Davies, Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach came to Paris in December to look for works of art. They requested four sculptures from Brâncuși for the exhibition: Une Muse (Mademoiselle Pogány I, 1912, plaster; and Le Baiser (The Kiss), 1912, stone.

On February 17, 1913, the Armory Show opened; Brâncuși participated in the exhibition with the aforementioned works, which ran until March 15, 1913, and was subsequently on view in Chicago and Boston. That same year he met Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and the following year had his first solo exhibition at the 291 Gallery of the well-known photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, with eight works, including Maïastra from 1911 and Mademoiselle Pogány from 1912. The selection of the works was made by Edward Steichen, and the shipping of the works was paid for by the art-collecting couple Agnes and Eugene Meyer, who were to become lifelong friends of the artist.

World War I

After the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, Brâncuși remained in Paris as a Romanian citizen. In August 1914, he went to Voulangis with Steichen”s girlfriend to have head protectors, gloves and stockings knitted for the soldiers from collected wool; he also made his studio available to the Red Cross. The American artists, including Edward Steichen, had already left Paris at the beginning of the war; in 1915 the French followed suit, among them Francis Picabia, Albert Gleizes, Jean Crotti and Marcel Duchamp. Brâncuși donated some works for an exhibition opened on December 28 at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery at No. 15 Boulevard de la Madeleine for the benefit of Polish artists who had been victims of the war. Other donors were Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, Antoine Bourdelle, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

At the beginning of 1916 Brâncuși rented a new more spacious studio at No. 8 Impasse Ronsin, where he also set up an apartment. He additionally kept his studio in Rue de Montparnasse for some time. The first success Brâncuși had achieved by exhibiting at the Armory Show in 1913 in the United States was underpinned in 1916 by the purchase of the marble head Le Nouveau-Né I (1916) from the Modern Gallery, founded in October 1915 by Marius de Zayas and opened by Agnes E. Meyer. In the same year Brâncuși refused military service and was finally released from service on November 8, 1917.

Quarrels about Princesse X, participation in the Dada Festival

Brâncuși”s sculpture Princesse X, a work from 1916, was rejected by the Salon des Indépendants in January 1920 after Henri Matisse exclaimed during the installation, in view of the motif: “Look, a phallus.” Paul Signac, then president of the Salon, informed Brâncuși “that he was in danger of getting into trouble with the police commissioner,” whereupon Brâncuși wanted to appeal to the commissariat and Fernand Léger managed to calm him down. Instead, the sculpture L”Oiseau d”or from 1919 was given a place of honor in the exhibition.

Although Brâncuși had been friends with the Dadaists Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp since 1921, he always remained on the fringes of the Dada movement, but attended André Breton”s reading of Picabia”s Manifeste cannibale at the Théâtre de l”Œuvre, “during which a person standing high on a ladder shouted ”Dada, dada, I am dada!” The audience bombarded Breton with tomatoes and shouted, ”Stop, stop!”” Together with Léger, the artist attended the Dada Festival in Paris on May 26, 1920, where he signed the manifesto Contre cubisme, contre dadaisme. That same year, an Endless Column of Brâncușis was erected in Edward Steichen”s garden in Voulangis.

Meeting with Man Ray

In 1921, between May 25 and June 21, Brâncuși visited Milan, Naples, Romania, Prague, and Belgium, took a two-week trip to Corsica with Raymond Radiguet, and befriended Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie. He frequently exchanged thoughts and concerns with Satie, and both were captivated by the theme of Socrates, which found expression in their works: in Satie”s symphonic drama La Mort de Socrate and in the sculpture Sokrate (Socrates), 1922, by Brâncuși, created in Satie”s honor, who “liked to call the musician ”Socrates Brother.”” It was the year that Brâncuși, who was always dissatisfied with the photographs of his sculptures, met Man Ray; the latter reported in his book Autoportrait that he had sought out Brâncuși to photograph him, but the sculptor did not value publication. What interested him, he said, were good photographs of his works. Until now, Man Ray wrote, the few illustrations he had seen had disappointed him, such as a photograph of the marble Mademoiselle Pogány from the exhibition at the Armory Show in New York, which Stieglitz had sent him. He said that only he was able to photograph his sculptures.

First publication about Brâncuși

In the fall of 1921, a number dedicated to Brâncuși appeared in Little Review – a magazine that also had a gallery in New York at 66 Fifth Avenue called The Little Review Gallery – with the inscription “Brancusi number” on red wrappers. It was edited by Margaret Anderson with the collaboration of Jean Cocteau, Jean Hugo, Guy Charles-Cros, Paul Morand, Francis Picabia, and Ezra Pound, who published in this issue “the first significant article on the sculptor (with twenty-four photo reproductions),” “which undoubtedly, along with a later article in ”This Quarter,” constitutes the basic document for dating certain works.”

In 1922 Brâncuși traveled to Romania with the Irish-American beauty Eileen Lane, whom the sculptor introduced as his daughter, and visited with her the ski resort of Sinaia and Peștișani, where he started the possible project in view of the erection for a war memorial in Târgu Jiu and visited the quarries in the area. The journey home led back with stops in Rome and Marseille. The following year, a sculpture bearing Eileen”s name was created.

In October 1923, the Irish-American lawyer and art collector John Quinn came to Paris incognito for about two weeks. Quinn, the patron of the Armory Show, had become acquainted with Brâncuși”s works there and purchased many of his works until his death, including a version of the sculpture Mademoiselle Pogány for 6000 francs at Gallery 291 in 1914. At a golf match in Fontainebleau, to which Brâncuși had been invited, Quinn let the artist win, although the latter had never held a club before. The prize, a set of new golf clubs, Brâncuși proudly displayed on the wall of his studio for years to come. John Quinn died in 1924, and Marcel Duchamp, together with Henri-Pierre Roché, acquired 29 of the artist”s sculptures from Quinn”s estate at Brâncuși”s request, in order to avoid a drop in market price after too much supply. He sold some works in an exhibition at the Brummer Gallery in New York; other sales followed gradually.

Illustrations in magazines, exhibitions in New York

In 1924, the magazine Transatlantic Review, founded by Ford Madox Ford in the same year, published 64 panel illustrations and a poem by Brâncușis. He spent the summer in Saint-Raphaël, where he created the sculpture Le Crocodile (The Crocodile), a “crocodile stamp,” on the beach from washed-up cork oak logs.

In the magazine This Quarter, published in Paris by Ernest Walsh and Ethel Moorhead in 1925, the Art Supplement included in the issue published a sequence of 46 photo reproductions of Brâncușis, consisting of 37 dated photographs of works, four portraits of the sculptor and five drawings. It was preceded by nine of Brâncuși”s aphorisms – “Brâncuși”s responses on direct hewing, polishing and simplicity in art, and aphorisms for Irène Codreanu” – and a Histoire de brigands (Robbers” Tale) written by him.

From January to March of 1926, Brâncuși visited New York, as two exhibitions were held at the Wildenstein Gallery: the Exhibition of Trinational Art, French, British, American, where he exhibited the four works Torse (Torso), L”Oiseau (The Bird) and two sculptures of Figure, and the second solo exhibition of his works, which lasted from February 16 to March 3. Shortly before his departure, Brâncuși received an invitation to the official opening of an exhibition on January 7 at the Art Center in memory of John Quinn, who had died in July 1924. However, he was unable to accept it, as he arrived in New York by ship only on January 28. Before Brâncuși left New York on March 22, he made the acquaintance of the American architect William Lescaze at the Wildenstein Galleries and was invited by Béatrice Wood, a friend of Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché.

Increasing prominence as a sculptor

In May 1926, Brâncuși traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, where the group exhibition L”Art francais moderne was held. In June of that year, Eugène Meyer expressed his desire to purchase the sculpture L”Oiseau dans l”espace (The Bird in Space) from the sculptor for $4,000. Brâncuși brought it himself from Paris to New York, as an exhibition was dedicated to him at the Brummer Gallery in November of that year. He was stopped at the American customs checkpoint with the notice that it was a piece of metal, which was taxable. Brâncuși countered that it was a work of art and as such did not need to be taxed. As a result, a protracted trial took place over the sculpture, which involved this very question of whether the sculpture was dutiable in the sense of a manufactured good or a work of art. In 1928, the court decided in favor of the latter.

From 1927 to 1929, the American-Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi worked as an assistant in Brâncuși”s Paris studio and was inspired by his work of reduced forms. In an essay about his various encounters with the sculptor, Noguchi recounted the value Brâncuși placed on treating each tool with purpose and with reverence and patience. The axes and the almost 1.5-meter-long saw always had to be so well sharpened that they were able to penetrate the wood virtually by their own weight.

In December 1927, the magazine De Stijl published three photographs of Brâncuși”s works: Princesse (Sculpture pour aveugles (Sculpture for the Blind) and a photograph of the artist, having featured Negresse blonde (Blonde Negress) in its number 77 a year earlier. The eponymous group of artists had been founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg, whom the sculptor knew well, and Piet Mondrian.

In 1929, James Joyce – referred to Brâncuși by John Quinn and Ezra Pound – visited the sculptor in his studio and asked for a portrait drawing for a book publication. After Brâncuși made several sketches, the writer chose three: a profile drawing, another in front view, and an abstract drawing with a spiral and three verticals. These drawings were later printed on the dust jacket of Joyce”s work Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, a chapter of the novel in progress Finnegans Wake.

On February 11, 1930, Brâncuși signed two leases. One for a medium-sized studio that had been registered in the name of Marcel Duchamp and was now in his name, and another for a studio in the Ruche des Arts, the Beehive of the Arts, which had been founded by Alfred Boucher in 1902. Boucher had a pavilion called “La Chapelle,” which served as a studio, and around thirty other studios built on the vacant, wooded property decorated with flower borders, where artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine and Marc Chagall, among others, worked.

That year he met the British concert pianist Vera Moore after the collector and curator of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art Jim Ede, who had his residence in Kettle”s Yard, invited the sculptor to one of her concerts. In 1934 Moore gave birth to a son, John Moore, whom Brâncuși never acknowledged as his child.

Monument in Târgu Jiu, trips to India and New York

In 1936 Brâncuși received a commission from the Maharaja of Indore, who had purchased the bronze Bird in Space for the Temple de la Délivrance (Temple of Liberation). For the Romanian pavilion at the 1937 World”s Fair in Paris, Brâncuși was represented by L”Oiselet (The Little Bird), 1929. An initially planned Colonne sans fin (Endless Column) in the garden of the pavilion was discarded due to time constraints. Between June and September 1937, the sculptor worked on a war memorial in Târgu Jiu. After a two-month stay in Paris, he returned to Romania in early November to observe the erection of the endless column, part of the three-part ensemble. Other components of the monument are La Table du silence (The Table of Silence) and La Porte du baiser (The Gate of the Kiss).

In early 1938, Brâncuși traveled to Indore via Bombay to work on the Temple de la Délivrance, but did not meet the Maharaja. A dignitary received him and let the sculptor stay in the palace. He had a car and a chauffeur at his disposal, visited the country and cleaned the sculptures that the Maharajah had bought in his studio. The completion of the temple was not to happen due to the death of the Maharaja. On January 27, Brâncuși left on the same ship he had come on and was in Suez on February 3, traveling from there to Cairo to visit the city”s museums, as well as the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza.

On April 19, 1939, Brâncuși traveled to New York. The occasion was the exhibition Art In Our Time, with which the Museum of Modern Art celebrated its tenth anniversary. Some of the sculptor”s works were also to be shown at the World”s Fair in New York, which took place during the same period. However, as the organizers wanted a more suitable place for his work than the Romanian pavilion, they turned to the director of the museum, Alfred Barr. The latter suggested that the presentation of the exhibition in the museum should begin in the last days of the World”s Fair in October. They agreed to include in the exhibition the sculpture Le Miracle (Le Phoque) (The Miracle ) from 1936, whose two stone bases include a motor with a transformer and a ball bearing, which makes the work rotate slowly. At the end of the year, Yvonne Zervos, wife of Christian Zervos, organized an exhibition at the Mai Gallery with works by Brâncuși, as well as Hans Arp, Jorge González Camarena, Paul Klee and Henri Laurens.

World War II

Brâncuși survived the Second World War in frequently damp studios – in July 1941 he had rented a medium-sized fifth studio. He subsisted on sour milk, homemade curd and sauerkraut, and polenta. He built himself a small still using a large tin can on which he welded a curved pipe fitted with a tap. The allotted tobacco rations were not enough for him, as his consumption was considerable. Therefore, he obtained tobacco plants at the flower market, which he continued to grow at his studio window to ensure the basis for his cigarette consumption.

In 1943 Brâncuși produced the marble La Tortue (The Tortoise) and a new version of Le Phoque (The Seal) in blue-gray marble. The Tortoise was presented upside down by the Guggenheim Museum in 1955 and by the Philadelphia Museum the following year. Brâncuși, who pointed out the error to the museums, remarked after the Guggenheim Museum sent him the exhibition catalog, “Well, now it”s flying, my turtle!” The work stands on two round stone pedestals, one above the other, the upper one slowly rotating with the help of a motor. The marble was purchased by the Musée National d”Art Moderne in 1947.

Guggenheim, Maywald and Arensberg Collection

In 1947, Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati, a couple of painters from Romania, came to Paris through a grant from the French government, and as soon as they arrived they met Brâncuși, who asked them to stay with him. They helped the sculptor with his work until his death in 1957, and Brâncuși named them as universal heirs in his will.

In the summer of 1947, two of Brâncușis works provided by Peggy Guggenheim were exhibited at the 24th Biennale di Venezia: Maïastra from 1912 and L”Oiseau dans l”espace (The Bird in Space) from 1940. For a photo reportage in the magazine Architecture d”aujourd”hui (Architecture Today), Brâncuși had opened his studio to the photographer Willy Maywald. The latter had been commissioned to report on Brâncuși, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse and Henri Laurens for an issue that was to be devoted to modern sculpture.

A major concern of Brâncușis in 1950 was the appropriate presentation of the private collection jointly managed by Walter and Louise Arensberg. After failed negotiations with various museums, the collection was to be officially presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a donation on December 27 of that year. Prior to that, an exhibition on it was held in October. At that time, the Arensberg collection contained 19 works by the sculptor, ten of which came from the estate of John Quinn. The collection also included works by Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Braque, and Marcel Duchamp”s Nu descendant un escalier no. 2. The wing of the museum dedicated to Brâncuși was a spacious hall; in an adjoining room stood the bust of Mademoiselle Pogány in veined marble, next to it The Bathers by Cézanne and a painting by van Gogh.

The last years

The Târgu Jiu Ensemble was the culmination of his artistic work. In the remaining 19 years of his life, during which his recognition grew worldwide, he created about a dozen works, mostly repeating the themes of his earlier works.

On June 13, 1952, Brâncuși received French citizenship, which he had applied for the previous year. Assistance was provided by Jules Supervielle”s two daughters, who compiled the documents for the sculptor, and the efforts of the Musée National d”Art Moderne. Brâncuși received the identity card issued by the Prefecture of Police on October 9 of that year.

On December 31, 1954, the Hungarian painter and friend Margit Pogány, made famous by his sculpture portrait Mademoiselle Pogány, died in Australia. In January 1955 Brâncuși suffered a fracture of the neck of the femur in a fall. After lengthy inpatient treatment in the hospital, during which he had to undergo 30 operations, five X-ray examinations and 14 laboratory tests, he was able to leave the hospital on May 3, 1955. Subsequently, due to his unsteadiness on his feet, he had several falls, for example, in April 1956, when he fell down a flight of stairs. Brâncuși was mentally burdened by this, and he claimed, “This has always been my weakness, it has to do with my star sign, I”m a Pisces.” At this time, he developed a prostate condition and eczema. Since he did not believe in traditional medicine, he did not take his medicines prescribed by the doctor.

After turning 80, the sculptor began to think about what would happen to his works after his death. Brâncuși considered an offer from the Guggenheim Museum to be the most interesting, as he was haunted by the concern of a possible world catastrophe. It said that a museum should be built in New York “that would contain most of his work and offer the security of a nuclear shelter to boot.” The Musée National d”Art Moderne made a proposal to Brâncuși that the donation of his works be made to France, or rather to the city of Paris. At the end of March 1956, a plan arose to build a studio for his works in Meudon on the site of the Rodin Museum, but it was not realized.

Constantin Brâncuși died in Paris on March 16, 1957 after a long illness and was buried at the Cimetière Montparnasse. According to the sculptor”s testamentary dispositions, his sole heirs Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati gave the entire inventory of his studio, with the exception of cash, securities and shares, to the French state for the benefit of the Musée National d”Art Moderne. In Romania, cultural activists and members of parliament campaign for the return of Brâncuși”s mortal remains to Romania, including public rallies.

Brâncușis sculptural foundations

The year 1907 was the decisive turning point in Constantin Brâncuși”s sculptural development. While his earlier works were still strongly influenced by Auguste Rodin”s naturalism, in his figurative sculptures the sculptor now turned on the one hand to taille directe, i.e. the direct visible working of the material, and on the other hand to the rigorous simplification of forms. He was inspired and encouraged by the wooden sculptures of Paul Gauguin, which he saw in a retrospective in 1906, and in the fall of 1907 by the block-like stone sculpture L”accroupi by André Derain at the Galerie Daniel Kahnweiler. Between 1913 and 1914, he worked with a variety of materials including stone, wood, and plaster, and had his works cast in bronze. Brâncuși”s main subject was the human head. Like Pablo Picasso, Brâncuși was influenced by African fetish art, which became the defining theme for Cubist sculpture in a new way of spiritualizing the material, coupled with the situation of the body in space.

Brâncuși”s sculptural approach consisted in reducing the subject to elementary basic forms, which were often polished. The artist emphasized that the polish was necessary only for a firmly closed, mature core form. The material sheen of the polished surface, he said, should not be understood as decoration, but as an opening to space and a prerequisite for a transparent interplay, whereby light was given a creative task. The recourse to basic geometric forms corresponded not only to Brâncuși”s archetypal thinking about form, but equally to his striving for abstraction and “primitivism” in sculptural design.

A distinctive feature in the work of sculptor Brâncuși is the design of the pedestal with the intention “to gather all forms in one form and make them alive”. If the pedestal was previously considered only as a secondary support of a sculpture, the artist devoted his special attention to it and gave it a sculptural form. For example, he used different materials for sculpture and pedestal, chose geometric shapes when the sculpture was soft-organic, or piled several pedestal elements on top of each other. Without this pedestal design, Alberto Giacometti”s unity of sculpture and pedestal would be inconceivable. The floor sculptures that emerged in the 1960s, such as those by Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, or Robert Morris, also followed Brâncuși”s suggestion.

Selection of some sculptures

With the 1907 stone sculpture Le Baiser (The Kiss), a quotation from Rodin”s 1886 sculpture of the same name, the sculptor first made a theme his own, which he would revisit again and again throughout his artistic life in various versions, both as sculpture and drawing. Inspired by sculptures of Romanian folk art, it may furthermore recall the Byzantine imperial figures found on the north side of St. Mark”s Cathedral in Venice, as they share a similar expression. In its emphasis on the hands and entwining arms of the block-like subject, the sculpture shows a connection to André Derain”s squatting figures, both in size, material, cutting technique, and massiveness. Derain”s work was shown at the Daniel Kahnweiler Gallery in the fall of 1907, shortly before Brâncuși carved the first sculpture of the Kiss in stone.

After the kiss, his sculptures became increasingly abstract. In 1911 Brâncuși turned to the theme of Prometheus, which found its form in the sculpture of the same name – once in a version in marble and three times in bronze. The Hungarian painter Margit Pogány had translated passages from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”s Pandora for the sculptor, which deal with the revolt of the Titans. He did not process the theme in an academic way: “I could not, after all, represent this great myth by an eagle tearing the liver of a body chained to the summit of the Caucasus.”

From 1911, the sculptor created the Maïastra – with versions in marble as well as in bronze, followed by a version in polished bronze in 1912 – a golden miraculous bird that appears in Romanian legends and folk tales as Pasărea Măiastră. He is said to have emitted a miraculous song with supernatural power, to have helped the prince charming to free his beloved, and to have been “involved in the creation of the world and in the struggle between good and evil”.

Brâncuși created five versions of Mademoiselle Pogány within two decades: the plaster from 1912 and following this in marble and bronze, which were created in 1913, 1919, 1931 and 1933. Mademoiselle Pogany I from 1913 exists in four bronze versions, in which the hair part is patinated, as well as the plaster. Mademoiselle Pogany II of 1919 is made of veined marble mounted on a stone base set on three wooden pedestals and is owned by New York entrepreneur Ronald S. Lauder. Mademoiselle Pogany III of 1931 is executed in white marble set on a stone base; Mademoiselle Pogany III of 1933 is a polished bronze with a stone base on a wooden pedestal. Mademoiselle Pogany I and III (1912 and 1931) are in the holdings of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1915 Brâncuși produced one of his most significant works, Le Nouveau-Né I (The Newborn I). The oval sculpture, made in marble, shows the head of a newborn baby with its mouth wide open, gasping for air. The sculptor himself expressed it as follows: “The lungs are filled with air, the existence of a new being on this earth becomes recognizable, with all its vitality and its fear of the mysteries.” And further: “The newborns are upset at their birth, because they are brought into the world against their will.”

The sculpture Princesse X dates from 1916. There are speculations that Princess Marie Bonaparte, psychoanalyst and acquaintance of Sigmund Freud, may have inspired Brâncuși to create the sculpture. Princesse X, with her round breasts and long hair, gives more the impression of a male genitalia, a phallus, with her forms, which had led to an exhibition scandal in Paris in 1920. In her book Laughing Torso, published in 1932, the British sculptor and writer Nina Hamnett describes the bronze as a further development of a sculpture created in 1909 – the lost marble Portrait (Femme se regardant dans un miroir) or Madame P. D. K. Brâncuși himself mentioned for the bronze of 1916 a Romanian princess who actually existed at that time, but whom he kept secret.

Also in 1916, he created the study Portrait de Mme Meyer (Portrait of Mrs. Meyer) in wood, which was executed in slightly different form in black marble under the title Portrait de Mme E. Meyer Jr. (Portrait of Mrs. E. Meyer Jr.) in 1930. Agnes E. Meyer, whom the sculptor had met through Edward Steichen in 1912, purchased it in 1934 for $3500. The wooden sculpture was created during a period when Brâncuși was influenced by African art. “It was also a phase in which he dealt with the problem of balance; the design of the head was challenging because of the overturning and produced a profile that is all the more surprising when the perfectly straight back is taken into account. The work, with the exception of one variation, is symmetrical down to the lowest element; it nobly strives upward from its base and manages to give the impression of a whole figure, although only the head and neck are shown.”

In 1919 he created the sculpture L”Oiseau d”or (he stretched the oval and female form of Maïastra of 1911, designed in marble, of which there is a version of 1912 polished in bronze, upwards in the vertical. The resulting simplification of the overall form emphasizes the sweep. “This simplification,” the sculptor wrote, “is not the goal of art. One achieves it against one”s will when one wants to make what is true and not the shell we see, but what it conceals.”

With L”Oiseau dans l”espace (The Bird in Space) from 1923, 17 more works of the same title were created from that date. In 1925, a yellow marble, a white marble and two polished bronzes; in 1927, a polished bronze; in 192728, a polished bronze; in 1928, a polished bronze and in 1929, a white marble; in 1930, a polished bronze; 1931, a polished bronze, a white marble, a black marble, and a blue-gray marble; circa 1940, a polished bronze; circa 1940 to 1941, a polished bronze and a blue-gray colored plaster made between 1940 and 1945, and a final blue-gray marble made in 1947. Brâncuși focused not on the bird”s physical attributes, but on its movement. Wings and feathers are eliminated, the body elongated, the head and beak reduced to an oblique oval surface. It balances on a slender conical foot, the upward movement is fluid.

The Târgu Jiu Ensemble

Between June and September 1937, the sculptor worked on a war memorial in Târgu Jiu, a commission from the Women”s League of Gorj; he chose the site on July 25 for the first sculpture of the three-part memorial completed in 1938. The work parts La Colonne sans fin (The Endless Column), La Table du silence (The Table of Silence) and La Porte du baiser (The Gate of the Kiss) form an axis on a stretch of about one and a half kilometers. There is no clear interpretation for the ensemble; however, with its sacred character, it refers to early ritual stone settings and forms a precursor for new open forms of the monument in the 20th century.

The sculpture was built at the place where in 1916 the “Romanian troops had repulsed the German offensive on the Jiu River Brâncuși had already been occupied with the motif of the Endless Column since 1917. In that year it was part of the sculpture group L”Enfant au monde.

The assembly of the column, made of cast iron, with its 15 rhombus-shaped elements, as well as a half-element and a three-quarter element, was completed in November 1937 and erected in the same month; it rises 29.33 meters in height and has a total weight of 29 tons. The total weight of the elements is 14226 kilograms; the steel core weighs 15 tons. Inside the column there are four lightning rods. On the upper half-element of the column, an impermeable plate, which prevents the penetration of water, forms the closure. In July 1938, the cladding with gilded brass, executed by a Swiss company, took place.

In the 1950s, the Endless Column, disliked by the communist government as “too bourgeois”, was to be demolished, but the plan was not carried out. In May 1996, the international World Monuments Fund (WMF) included the three-part ensemble of Târgu Jiu in the list of the world”s 100 most endangered monuments, whereupon, in addition to the WMF, the World Bank, UNESCO, the Henry Moore Foundation and numerous private donors enabled Romania to carry out a restoration, which was completed in 2000.Today, the Endless Column forms the main element of the city emblem of Târgu Jiu.

Near the Jiu River there is still the Table of Silence surrounded by twelve stone round stools. In 1937, Brâncuși placed a first table. After his return to Paris, the city fathers decided to have an explanatory inscription with the sculptor”s name carved on it, which angered Brâncuși upon his return to Targu-Jiu in 1938, and he demanded that the inscription be removed.

But he no longer liked the table, he had a new larger table made and placed it on the smaller table. The placement of the twelve stone seats, symmetrically arranged around the table, Brâncuși had initially conceived in pairs at a distance of 40 centimeters from the table, but later accepted the current single arrangement. The dimensions of the upper diameter of the table are 2.15 m, the thickness 0.43 m, the lower diameter 2 m and 0.45 m thickness.

The Table of Silence is followed after about 130 meters by the Gate of the Kiss, which, like the table, is made of light travertine. The works on the gate were started in June 1937 and finished on September 20, 1938. Brâncuși had two collaborators in its construction: Ion Alexandrescu from Bucharest and Golea from Dobrita. The gate was inaugurated in Târgu Jiu on October 27, 1938.

The proportions of the gate were designed according to the dimensions of the golden section. The gate is 5.13 m high, 6.54 m long; the posts are 3.32 m high and 1.69 m wide. The kiss motif is repeated sixteen times on each face and four times on each side of the travertine frieze. The slabs of the frieze are fixed with a framework of iron in cement. On each of the two narrow sides of the gate there is a stone bench made of granite.

Furniture and objects

Throughout his life Brâncuși built various furniture, household appliances, tools and utensils. According to the sculptor”s wishes, they were to form a unity, together with the sculptures, between the sculptural art and his sphere of life. In 1923, for example, he created a distaff, which he made after returning from a joint trip to Romania with Eileen Lane. In 1925 he made several plumb bobs and in 1928 a self-made stove – with stove grate, igniter, fire hook – which stood in his darkroom. Between 1928 and 1930 he created a lamp made of copper, a simple light bulb in a socket standing vertically on a cross-shaped stone base, and in 1940 a kettle for roasting coffee. Eight years later, the convinced cook created a stove, which he called “pipe” and which served as an extension of the fireplace.

Photographic work

Brâncuși, who had begun taking the first photographs of his works in 1905, was visibly disappointed in 1914 by a photograph he had seen of one of Alfred Stieglitz”s marble sculptures in the course of his New York exhibition at the latter”s gallery. The photograph was beautiful, he said, but did not represent his work. He “soon realized the possibility of the camera as a tool for his work as a sculptor.” His photographs of the larger and smaller sculptures always show the space surrounding them, the studio as a whole, in the manner of a “super work of art,” as it were. In 1921 Brâncuși met Man Ray, who confirmed the usefulness of this medium and taught him how to use large-format negatives. They bought a tripod, glass plates and a wooden camera, with which Brâncuși henceforth made his photographs. Since the sculptor wanted to develop the prints himself, a short time later he set up a darkroom in a corner of his studio.

When Brâncuși died at the age of 81, in addition to a body of work of 215 sculptures, he also left behind 557 negatives on glass plates-122 studio photographs, 253 work photographs, 183 documentary photographs-of which he had made two or three prints each. The total of 1299 photographs includes 251 studio photographs, 697 work photographs, and 351 documentary photographs.

The Brâncușis studio

Brâncuși often refused to be exhibited and considered his Montparnasse studio on Impasse Ronsin the true place to display his works. There he staged them with colored curtains and lighting systems. From the raw block to the finished objects and their variants, including the works he sold and exhibited as plaster versions, to the furniture he made himself, Brâncuși presented his artistic design: he created art as a total like the pioneers of modernism van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch. The art historian Uwe M. Schneede describes Brâncuși”s media possibilities, which he used consistently: the pedestal as part of the sculpture, the studio as a total work of art, his photography as interpretation and visual memory. Thus he was – similar to Kurt Schwitters in his Merzbau – artist and curator, exhibition architect, photographer and interpreter at the same time.

After Constantin Brâncuși”s death in 1957, the Musée National d”Art Moderne in Paris received from his estate the contents of his studio, which contained his sculpting tools and many of his most important sculptures. In accordance with his last will, the studio was reconstructed in its entirety by architect Renzo Piano in 1997 and made available to the public. The reconstruction of the studio is located next to the Centre Georges Pompidou at 19 rue Beaubourg, Place Georges Pompidou.

Brâncuși”s influence on Modigliani

In 1909, the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani met Constantin Brâncuși in Paris and, on his advice, moved into his studio in the Cité Falguière on Montparnasse. They became friends, and through Brâncuși”s influence Modigliani began sculpting stone as early as that year, which he made the focus of his work until about 1914, as he was impressed by Brâncuși”s succinct style and by African sculptures he had learned about through him. Modigliani”s knowledge of African sculptures also inspired his oval portrait faces and elongated body shapes in his paintings. In his zeal to work as a sculptor, Modigliani had often tried to carve out the marble in one piece. Brâncuși found the painter, whose health was suffering greatly at the time due to the consumption of absinthe and hashish and was thus not up to these physical tasks, lying unconscious one day next to a block of stone that he had worked on to the point of complete exhaustion. Another time he had picked him up in front of his studio door, dragged him to his bed and waited until Modigliani – who had visited a group of studios in the back of the courtyard of 11 Impasse Ronsin, where opium was smoked – came to.

Peggy Guggenheim”s Memories of Brâncuși

The sculptor was friends with a number of wealthy society ladies, such as Baroness Renée Irana Frachon, Agnes E. Meyer, and Nancy Cunard, of whom he created sculpture portraits, as well as Peggy Guggenheim. Guggenheim recalled in 1960 in her autobiography Out of this Century. Confessions of an Art Addict of their relationship, “Brancusi was a wonderful little man with a beard and penetrating dark eyes. He was a clever farmhand in one half, a real god in the other. I was very happy when I was with him. It was a privilege to know him; unfortunately, he was very possessive and wanted to claim my time completely. He called me Pegitza He used to take beautiful young girls with him on his trips. Now he wanted to take me with him, but I would not allow it. He had been to his native Romania, where the government had offered him a commission for public monuments. He was very proud of that. Most of his life he was very frugal and completely devoted to his work. He gave up everything for it, even his relationship with women. As a result, in old age he felt very alone. Brancusi liked to dress well and invite me to dinner when he wasn”t cooking for me himself. He suffered from paranoia and always thought people were spying on him. He loved me very much

Brâncușis influence on sculpture

Brâncușis modular sculpture of the Endless Column made of identical rhomboids offered new possibilities in sculptural art that had not existed before. They were later taken up by the American Minimalists. Artists who followed in his footsteps include: Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, William Tucker, Christopher Willmarth, and Scott Burton, who designed furniture as sculptures and thought Brâncuși”s pedestals were equally works of art as his woodwork.

Claes Oldenburg, whose sculptures are inspired in many complex ways for form and content by Brâncușis sculptures, has, for example, in Colossal Clothspin (Colossal Clothespin) from 1972, invoked the formal proximity to the sculpture The Kiss, which depicts two people. In keeping with Pop Art, they transform into an artificial object, in this case a clothespin. Dan Flavin had dedicated to the sculptor his neon sculpture Diagonal of May 25, 1963, a neon tube, which in its basic idea corresponds to Brâncușis polished bronzes. Flavin”s intention in dedicating his minimalist sculpture was to place it “in the great history of sculpture and, in one way or another, to avoid his work being taken as a very ordinary light tube.”

According to her own statement, the British sculptor Barbara Hepworth was impressed by the artist and his work after a visit to Brâncuși”s studio in 1932. His treatment of the rough stone inspired her own work from then on.

Brâncușis significance for sculptural architecture

Constantin Brâncuși”s turn to sculptural architecture is fundamental to the history of modern architecture. On a first visit to Manhattan in 1926, he is said to have exclaimed in surprise at the sight of the skyline, “This is my studio!” The skyscrapers of the present are indeed increasingly approaching sculptural appearance. “Victory over scale” is an invention of the twenties and thirties of the last century; in the age of the computer, which no longer knows any dimension, it finds a not always unproblematic successor. In the exhibition “ArchiSkulptur” 20042005 in Basel, among other things, the corporeal model of the “Swiss Re” skyscraper inaugurated in London by Norman Foster was related to the marble sculpture L”Oiseau (192347) by Brâncuși. In 1989, Jean Nouvel designed a 425-meter-high office building for La Défense in Paris called “Tour sans fins” (“Tower without Ends”), whose appearance became more filigree with increasing height. However, the design was later not realized.

György Ligeti”s Etude after the Colonne sans fin

The Romanian-born composer György Ligeti composed an Etude for Piano Solo No. 14 around 1993, which he named after the Endless Column Brâncușis Coloana fără sfârșit, and which was composed according to its ratios of 16 modules and a half-module – more correctly, it is 15 modules, a half-module and a three-quarter module – with the scale ascending in an “infinite” spiral.

Brâncuși on the art market

In May 2005, at a Christie”s auction, a version of Brâncuși”s work L”Oiseau dans l”espace (The Bird in Space), made of gray-blue marble, achieved the record for the highest price paid for a sculpture: the hammer fell at $27.5 million. This version was previously unknown to art scholars. An expert from Christie”s had discovered it in France in an attic.

The record was surpassed in February 2009: Also at Christie”s, at the art auction of the late Yves Saint Laurent as well as his partner Pierre Bergé, the wooden sculpture Portrait de Madame L. R. (Portrait of Madame L. R.) from 1914-1917 fetched a price of over US$29 million.

In 2012, at Christie”s in New York, a bronze of Le premier cri (The First Cry) from 1917, polished to a high sheen, won the bid at $13.2 million. It had been in the collection of Brâncuși”s friend Henri-Pierre Roché for decades. In May 2017, a bronze sculpture measuring only 27 cm (Sleeping Muse) also fetched $51 million again at Christie”s (estimate 25 to 35 million).


In the post-communist era in Brâncuși”s native Romania, starting in 1989, he was posthumously admitted as a member of the Romanian Academy in 1990. In 1991 and 1992, the National Bank of Romania issued banknotes featuring a portrait of Brâncuși on the front, worth 500 lei.

Also in 1992, the Constantin Brâncuși University (Universitatea Constantin Brâncuși) was opened in Târgu Jiu. Named after Brâncuși, the university has five faculties and three additional departments.

His birthplace Hobița dedicated the “Casa memorială Constantin Brâncuși” to him.

In 1991, the German sculptor Erwin Wortelkamp created a wooden sculpture entitled Tribute to Brâncuși. Brâncuși has also been honored musically: The composer Gerhard Rosenfeld dedicated a sonata for violin and piano entitled Pour Brâncuși to him in 1995.

Group exhibitions


  1. Constantin Brâncuși
  2. Constantin Brâncuși
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