"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 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, Princess X, and , his sculptures are deceptively simple, with their reduced forms aiming to reveal hidden truths. Unlike the towering figure of , 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.
CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI KEY IDEAS
MOST IMPORTANT ART
TITLE: The Kiss (1916)
Artwork Description & Analysis: Brancusi's first version of The Kiss, created in 1907, marked a major departure from the emotive realism of Rodin's famous handling of the same subject. This 1916 version is the most geometric of Brancusi's series, reflecting the influence of Cubism in its sharply defined corners. Its composition, texture, and material highlight Brancusi's fascination with both the forms and spirituality of African, Assyrian, and Egyptian art. That attraction also led Brancusi to craft The Kiss using direct carving, a technique that had become popular in France at the time due to an interest in "primitive" methods. These sculptures signify his shift toward simplified forms, as well as his interest in contrasting textures - both key aspects of his later work.
Limestone - Philadelphia Museum of Art
CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI BIOGRAPHY
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.
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, in the sculpture studio of Antonin Mercie. Brancusi began working as a studio assistant to 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.
After leaving Rodin's studio, Brancusi began establishing his own style, beginning with squared works such as(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 , 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 thein New York. This landmark exhibition brought together new and avant-garde European and American art, much of which was highly controversial. , 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 photographergave 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.became embroiled in a 1927-28 legal battle over the very definition of art when customs officials refused to recognize as artwork, exempting it from customs duties. In response, , 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 , perhaps Brancusi's most famous student, worked as his studio assistant.
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, and treat sacred, spiritual themes. However, like many of his other works, 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 thein 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.
CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI 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
CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI 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."
"Simplicity is not an end in art, but we usually arrive at simplicity as we approach the true sense of things."
"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."
"Matter must continue its natural life when modified by the hand of the sculptor."
"When you see ayou 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."
"Create like a god; command like a king; work like a slave."