Visit our Community Pages Please support our work

The Art Story.org - Your Guide to Modern Art

Movements Artists Timelines Ideas Blog
Artists Constantin Brancusi

Constantin Brancusi

French-Romanian Photographer and Sculptor

Movements: Dada, Cubism

Born: February 19, 1876 - Hobitza, Romania

Died: March 16, 1957 - Paris, France

Quotes

"They are imbeciles who call my work abstract; that which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior form but the idea, the essence of things."
Constantin Brancusi
"Simplicity is not an end in art, but we usually arrive at simplicity as we approach the true sense of things."
Constantin Brancusi
"Don't look for obscure formulas or mystery in my work. It is pure joy that I offer you. Look at my sculptures until you see them. Those closest to God have seen them."
Constantin Brancusi
"Matter must continue its natural life when modified by the hand of the sculptor."
Constantin Brancusi
"When you see a fish you don't think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water... If I made fins and eyes and scales, I would arrest its movement, give a pattern or shape of reality. I want just the flash of its spirit."
Constantin Brancusi
"Create like a god; command like a king; work like a slave."
Constantin Brancusi

"What my work is aiming at is, above all, realism: I pursue the inner, hidden reality, the very essence of objects in their own intrinsic fundamental nature; this is my only deep preoccupation."

Synopsis

Constantin Brancusi is often regarded as the most important sculptor of the twentieth century. His visionary sculptures often exemplify ideal and archetypal representations of their subject matter. Bearing laconic titles such as Fish, Princess X, and Bird in Space, his sculptures are deceptively simple, with their reduced forms aiming to reveal hidden truths. Unlike the towering figure of Auguste Rodin, for whom Brancusi briefly assisted early in his career, Brancusi worked directly with his materials, pioneering the technique of direct carving, rather than working with intermediaries such as plaster or clay models.

Key Ideas

Explaining that "The artist should know how to dig out the being that is within matter," Brancusi sought to create sculptures that conveyed the true essence of his subjects, be they animals, people, or objects by concentrating on highly simplified forms free from ornamentation. While many regarded his art as abstract, the artist disagreed; he insisted on the representational nature of his works, asserting that they disclosed a fundamental, often concealed, reality.
Brancusi's work was largely fueled by myths, folklore, and "primitive" cultures. These traditional, old-world sources of inspiration formed a unique contrast to the often sleek appearance of his works, resulting in a distinctive blend of modernity and timelessness.
The materials Brancusi used - primarily marble, stone, bronze, wood, and metal - guided the specific forms he produced. He paid close attention to his mediums, meticulously polishing pieces for days to achieve a gleam that suggested infinite continuity into the surrounding space - "as though they proceeded out from the mass into some perfect and complete existence."

Most Important Art

Endless Column (1918)
In this, the first of Brancusi's several variations of Endless Column, he references the axis mundi, or axis of the world, a concept crucial to the beliefs of many traditional cultures embodying the connection between heaven and earth. This focus reflected Brancusi's strong and persistent affinity for the sacred, cosmic, and mythical. Endless Column also treats another theme of Brancusi's work, the idea of infinity, here suggested by the repetition of identical rhomboid shapes. The most famous of Brancusi's Endless Columns was the version that served as the centerpiece of the tripartite sculptural memorial to fallen soldiers in World War I erected in Tirgu-Jiu, Romania in 1935.
Oak - Museum of Modern Art, New York
More Art Works


By submitting above you agree to the ArtStory privacy policy.
Like The Art Story on Facebook

Biography

Childhood

The second of four children, Brancusi was born in the small farming village of Hobitza, Romania, in 1876. He had a difficult childhood, in part due to challenging relationships with his father, a property manager of a monastery, and the children from his previous marriage. After several attempts to leave home, Brancusi finally did so permanently in 1887, at the age of eleven.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Early Training

From 1889 to 1893, Brancusi lived in the Romanian city of Craiova, working variously as a waiter, cabinet-maker, and fortune-teller, while attending the School of Arts and Crafts part-time. In 1894, he enrolled full-time at the school, where he excelled in woodworking and ultimately graduated with honors in 1898. Brancusi then studied modeling and life sculpture at Bucharest's National School of Fine Arts (1898-1902), winning awards for his work in competitions. In 1904, he moved from Romania to Paris, famously travelling most of the way on foot. This story became part of the legend surrounding Brancusi as a peasant with an exotic heritage; the mythology was actively promoted by the artist himself, who took to wearing Romanian peasant clothing, even on formal occasions, and carved all of his own furniture.

From 1905 to 1907, Brancusi trained in sculpture and modeling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in the sculpture studio of Antonin Mercie. Brancusi began working as a studio assistant to Auguste Rodin in 1907, but left after only a month, explaining, "Nothing grows under the shadow of big trees." Yet, his month-long tenure in Rodin's workshop was critical in shaping Brancusi's aesthetic, taking Rodin's work as a point of departure from which to develop his own drastically different artistic practice, characterized by the use of direct carving rather than working from a clay model.

Mature Period

Constantin Brancusi Biography

After leaving Rodin's studio, Brancusi began establishing his own style, beginning with squared works such as The Kiss (1907-08). Despite having the same title as one of Rodin's most famous sculptures, Brancusi's work was its complete opposite in material and its handling of form and subject. Around 1909, Brancusi started creating smoother, more contoured sculptures in marble and bronze. He produced multiple, yet distinct versions of works such as The Kiss, Maiastra, and Sleeping Muse, and, by 1912, this career-long method of creating serial versions on the same theme was an established practice in his oeuvre.

Brancusi's work made its American debut in 1913, when five of his sculptures appeared in the Armory Show in New York. This landmark exhibition brought together new and avant-garde European and American art, much of which was highly controversial. Marcel Duchamp, whose work was also extremely challenging to critics, became an important friend, advocate, and collector of Brancusi's sculptures. While many critics were puzzled by Brancusi's work, artists flocked to him, and many began collecting his work. Although Brancusi lived in Paris for most of his life, making only a few trips to New York, he acknowledged the importance of American collectors and critics to his career, saying, "Without the Americans, I could never have produced all that, nor even perhaps have existed."

The photographer Alfred Stieglitz gave Brancusi his first solo show at his Photo-Secession Gallery in New York in 1914. This successful exhibition also marked the first purchase by collector and modern art advocate John Quinn, who became one of Brancusi's greatest patrons. That same year, Brancusi began taking photographs. Many of his photos were of his own studio, recording the specific ways he organized the arrangement of his works, which was highly significant to his creative process, as he considered the base of the sculpture to be just as important as the sculpture itself.

Brancusi's work continued to provoke public controversy. His Princess X caused a scandal at the 1920 Salon des Indépendants in Paris for its phallic form. Bird in Space became embroiled in a 1927-28 legal battle over the very definition of art when customs officials refused to recognize Bird in Space as artwork, exempting it from customs duties. In response, Edward Steichen, the photographer and owner of the piece, filed a lawsuit. The ruling in Brancusi's favor constituted a success for abstract art in general. It was also in 1927 that Isamu Noguchi, perhaps Brancusi's most famous student, worked as his studio assistant.

Late Period

Constantin Brancusi Photo

In the 1930s, Brancusi engaged in discussions with the Maharajah of Indore about building a temple in India, but the public sculpture was never executed. In 1937-38, he created a monumental three-part public artwork for Tirgu-Jiu, Romania, to honor the Romanian soldiers who had fallen in World War I. Spread across a mile of the town, Table of Silence, Gate of the Kiss, and Endless Column treat sacred, spiritual themes. However, like many of his other works, Endless Column has been a source of dispute. In the 1950s, a Communist attempted to dismantle the work, citing it as a corrupt example of Western art. The sculpture remained standing, but was badly damaged, and eventually underwent a lengthy and controversial conservation effort.

Brancusi received his first retrospective in 1955 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Throughout his life, he had carefully arranged and documented the placement of sculptures in his Paris studio. Just prior to his death in 1957, he left his studio to the city's Museum of Modern Art with the proviso that it be preserved. It is currently reconstructed in a Renzo Piano-designed building outside the Pompidou Center.

Legacy

Brancusi was a pioneering force in modern sculpture, paving the way for many generations of artists. His use of biomorphic forms and integration of his sculptures with their bases influenced the work of such artists as Isamu Noguchi, another major contributor to 20th-century sculpture. Brancusi's embrace of his materials' distinctive qualities and focus on the technique of direct carving were taken up by such sculptors as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Jacob Epstein. With its pared-down aesthetic, the reduced forms of his sculptures also had a major impact on the artists associated with the Minimalist movement of the 1960s.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Constantin Brancusi
Interactive chart with Constantin Brancusi's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Artists

Marcel Duchamp
Paul Gauguin
Fernand Léger
Auguste Rodin

Friends

Alfred Stieglitz
Edward Steichen
Henri Rousseau

Movements

Dada
African Art
Asian Art
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Years Worked: 1907 - 1957

Artists

Isamu Noguchi
Richard Serra
Robert Morris
Donald Judd

Friends

Ezra Pound
Amedeo Modigliani

Movements

Art Deco
Minimalism

Original content written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
[Accesed ]

Useful Resources on Constantin Brancusi

Books
Articles
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Constantin Brancusi

By Friedrich Teja Bach, Margit Rowell, Ann Temkin

Constantin Brancusi (Modern Masters Series)

By Eric Shanes

works
Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things

By Carmen Gimenez, Matthew Gale

Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957: A retrospective exhibition

By Constantin Brancusi

Funk and Chic

By Robert Hughes
Time
December 18, 1995

Where Brancusi's Independent Road Led

By Alan Riding
The New York Times
April 18, 1995

Carving a way to heaven

By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
January 3, 2004

Cool Warmth, Buoyant Stone, Majestic Wood

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
June 18, 2004

Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
The French artist Auguste Rodin is often considered the father of modern sculpture. His diverse oeuvre includes traditonal styles, strongly allegorical work, and the fragments and textured physicality that are hallmarks of modernism.
ArtStory: Auguste Rodin
Beaux Arts
Beaux Arts
Beaux Arts
Beaux Arts is a term typically applied to a neoclassical style of architecture that was popularized at the École des Beaux-Arts school in Paris in the nineteenth century. The style is characterized by decorative yet modern lines, flat roofs, Baroque- and Rococo-inspired motifs, arched windows, and other flourishes that by contemporary standards are considered both classic and academic, if not a bit fussy. Early-twentieth-century American architecture was highly influenced by the Beaux Arts style before Art Deco became the prevailing style of its time.
Beaux Arts
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer who published the pioneering journal Camera Work. His gallery 291 was a locus for modern artists in America.
ArtStory: Alfred Stieglitz
Edward Steichen
Edward Steichen
Edward Steichen
Edward Steichen, an American 'straight photographer' and fashion photographer, was an early member of the Photo-Secession movement. He helped Alfred Stieglitz found The Little Galleries of the Photo Secession in New York.
Edward Steichen
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American modern artist. best known for his organic, biomorphic sculpture works, Noguchi was also a furniture designer and landscape artist.
ArtStory: Isamu Noguchi
Solomon R. Guggenheim
Solomon R. Guggenheim
Solomon R. Guggenheim
Solomon R. Guggenheim was an American art collector and philanthropist. In 1937 he established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and soon after opened the experimental Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which celebrated the work of abstract artists. In 1959 this became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
ArtStory: Solomon R. Guggenheim
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore
Henry Moore was an English sculptor and artist. He was best known for his abstract monumental bronze sculptures. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting reclining figures, or even more commonly, the mother and child theme.
ArtStory: Henry Moore
Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth was an English sculptor. She helped develop modern sculpture, along with her contemporaries Henry Moore and Naum Gabo. She won a scholarship and studied at the Leeds School of Art in 1920, where she met Moore.
Barbara Hepworth
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein
Jacob Epstein was an American-born British sculptor who helped pioneer modern sculpture. He often produced controversial works, which challenged taboos on what was appropriate subject matter for public artworks. He also made paintings and drawings.
Jacob Epstein
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was a French Post-Impressionist artist who employed color fields and painterly strokes in his work. He is best known for his primitivist depictions of native life in Tahiti and Polynesia.
ArtStory: Paul Gauguin
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Fernand Léger
Influenced by Cubism and Futurism, the French painter Fernand Léger developed a unique style of Cubism using cylindrical and other geometric forms with mechanically smooth edges. Often colorful and punctuated by patterns, his paintings range from still lifes and figures to abstract compositions.
ArtStory: Fernand Léger
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau was a French self-taught painter. His most famous works, done in his characteristic flat figurative style, show surreal and dream-like scenes in primitive or natural settings.
ArtStory: Henri Rousseau
African Art
African Art
African Art
Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traditional African art, often seen through a primitivizing eye, began to exert a strong influence on modern Western artists. Artists were influenced by the emphasis on ritual and spiritualism, and the stylistic conventions of flattened planes and mask-like faces.
African Art
Asian Art
Asian Art
Asian Art
Asian Art has exerted a large and complex influence on modern Western art, ranging from nineteenth-century Japonisme to Buddhism, calligraphy, and philosophical ideas important to performance and conceptual art.
Asian Art
Richard Serra
Richard Serra
Richard Serra
Richard Serra is an American Process and Minimalist artist. His sculptures have ranged from hurled drips of molten lead to gigantic steel pieces installed in public places.
ArtStory: Richard Serra
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Robert Morris
Robert Morris is an American artist whose early L-beam and column sculptures were key works in Minimalism. His work also includes felt and fabric pieces, performance, body art, and earthworks, often with an emphasis on process and theatricality.
ArtStory: Robert Morris
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
Donald Judd was an early and influential Minimalist artist who made large-scale geometric objects, often of industrial materials and serially arranged on the floor or wall. He helped found the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where many key works of Minimalism are installed.
ArtStory: Donald Judd
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, one of the most important modern poets in America, emphasized images and pithiness over traditional verse structures and rhyme schemes. He was an expatriate and espoused at times controversial political beliefs.
Ezra Pound
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani was a Jewish-Itailan painter working in Paris from 1906 onwards. His unique style was influenced by Post-Impressionism, Brancusi and Cézanne, and featured ovaloid faces, elongated forms, and the use of brushed, modulated color fields.
ArtStory: Amedeo Modigliani
Art Deco
Art Deco
Art Deco
Art Deco was an eclectic style that flourished in the 1920s and '30s and influenced art, architecture and design. It blended a love of modernity - expressed through geometric shapes and streamlined forms - with references to the classical past and to exotic locations. Its elegant sophistication made it the fashionable style of the wealthy during its heyday.
Art Deco