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Constantin Brâncuși Photo

Constantin Brâncuși

French-Romanian Sculptor and Photographer

Born: February 19, 1876 - Hobitza, Romania
Died: March 16, 1957 - Paris, France
Movements and Styles:
Direct Carving
"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."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"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."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"Simplicity is not an end in art, but we usually arrive at simplicity as we approach the true sense of things."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"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."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"Matter must continue its natural life when modified by the hand of the sculptor."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"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."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature
"Create like a god; command like a king; work like a slave."
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Constantin Brâncuși Signature

Summary of Constantin Brâncuși

Constantin Brâncuși is often regarded as the most important sculptor of the 20th 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 Brâncuși briefly assisted early in his career, Brâncuși worked directly with his materials, pioneering the technique of Direct Carving, rather than working with intermediaries such as plaster or clay models.


  • 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."

Biography of Constantin Brâncuși

Constantin Brâncuși Photo

The second of four children, Brâncuși 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, Brâncuși finally did so permanently in 1887, at the age of eleven.

Important Art by Constantin Brâncuși

Progression of Art
The Kiss (1907-08)

The Kiss

Brâncuși's first version of The Kiss, marked a major departure from the emotive realism of Auguste Rodin's famous handling of the same subject. Its composition, texture, and material highlight Brâncuși's fascination with both the forms and spirituality of African, Assyrian, and Egyptian art. That attraction also led Brâncuși 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 - The Philadelphia Museum of Art


Sleeping Muse I

Portraits, heads, and busts were frequent subjects for Brâncuși, and he received several commissions for such work. With Sleeping Muse I, modeled on the Baroness Renee-Irana Frachon, Brâncuși developed a distinctive form of the portrait bust, representing only its sitter's disembodied head. This work was Brâncuși's first handling of the sleeping head, a thematic cycle that occupied the artist for roughly twenty years. The smoothness of the piece, achieved by the artist's practice of polishing the surface of his sculptures until they achieved a high gleam, contrasts with the carved definition of the sitter's facial features.

Marble - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC

Endless Column (1918)

Endless Column

Originally created in 1918, in Endless Column Brâncuși 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 Brâncuși's strong and persistent affinity for the sacred, cosmic, and mythical. Endless Column also treats another theme of Brâncuși's work, the idea of infinity, here suggested by the repetition of identical rhomboid shapes. This image shows the most famous of Brâncuși's Endless Columns, which 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 1938.

Original Work: Oak - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


The Sorceress

Romanian culture had a great influence on Brâncuși, particularly its woodcarving traditions and mystical folklore. Although he generally did not cite specific references for his works, The Sorceress, which was carved from a portion of a tree trunk where three branches met, is said to have been inspired by a flying witch from a Romanian folktale. He also drew on African tribal art for his woodcarvings, partially influenced by the example of Paul Gauguin. As with the present work, the base foundations were important elements of Brâncuși's sculptures; hand-carved by the artist, his bases were intended as artworks in their own right - a truly innovative concept in the history of sculpture, upending the centuries-old tradition of distinguishing between a sculptural artwork and the base on which it stands.

Walnut on limestone base - Guggenheim Museum, New York



Animals, particularly those with transformative powers in myths, were a source of fascination for Brâncuși. He made numerous sculptures of fish, birds, seals, and swans. For his fish, rather than sculpting scales and fins, he endeavored to capture the animal's essential qualities - its "speed, its floating, flashing body seen through water... just the flash of its spirit." As in this piece, Brâncuși often juxtaposed diverse textures, colors, and forms, using media such as bronze, limestone, marble, and oak. The bronze fish sits on a wooden base, topped by a mirror, which functions as an integral part of the artwork itself - evoking the fish's habitat, a body of water, whose reflective quality reflects the sense of infinity Brâncuși often sought to capture in his work. The mirror-wood base also functions as structural support, as without it, the fish could not "stand" upright but would have to lay on its side.

Bronze, metal, and wood - The Tate Collection, London, UK


Bird in Space

Bird imagery constituted a major part of Brâncuși's work for much of his career. Beginning with his 1910 Maiastra sculptures, based on a magical bird from Romanian folklore, he proceeded to works such as Magic Bird and Golden Bird. However, it was his many variations of Bird in Space that comprised his best-known treatments of this theme. In these intensely polished works, Brâncuși dispenses with the bird's physical attributes, focusing instead on capturing "the essence of flight," through elongated, slightly tapering figures that suggest the bird's swift, upward movement.

Bronze - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Constantin Brâncuși 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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First published on 01 Jul 2009. Updated and modified regularly
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