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Artists Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi Photo

Constantin Brancusi

French-Romanian Photographer and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Dada, Cubism

Born: February 19, 1876 - Hobitza, Romania

Died: March 16, 1957 - Paris, France

Constantin Brancusi Timeline

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."

Constantin Brancusi Signature

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

Constantin Brancusi Famous 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.
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Constantin Brancusi Artworks in Focus:

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.

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Constantin Brancusi Biography Continues

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.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Fernand LégerFernand Léger
Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin

Friends

Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
Edward SteichenEdward Steichen
Henri RousseauHenri Rousseau

Movements

DadaDada
African ArtAfrican Art
Asian ArtAsian Art
Constantin Brancusi
Constantin Brancusi
Years Worked: 1907 - 1957

Artists

Isamu NoguchiIsamu Noguchi
Richard SerraRichard Serra
Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Donald JuddDonald Judd

Friends

Ezra PoundEzra Pound
Amedeo ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani

Movements

Art DecoArt Deco
MinimalismMinimalism

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Constantin Brancusi

Books

Articles

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of 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 Recomended resource

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 Recomended resource

By Constantin Brancusi

More Interesting Books about 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

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