French-Romanian Sculptor and Photographer
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Constantin Brâncuși
- Constantin BrâncușiOur PickBy Friedrich Teja Bach, Margit Rowell, Ann Temkin
- Constantin Brâncuși (Modern Masters Series)By Eric Shanes
- Constantin Brâncuși: The Essence of ThingsBy Carmen Gimenez, Matthew Gale
- Constantin Brâncuși, 1876-1957: A retrospective exhibitionOur PickBy Constantin Brâncuși
- Constantin Brâncuși: Sculpting Within the Essence of ThingsOur PickBy James Pearson
- BrâncușiBy Pierre Cabanne
- Brâncuși / A Study of the SculptureBy Sidney Geist
- Brâncuși Photographs BrâncușiBy Constantin Brâncuși, Elizabeth Brown
- Funk and ChicBy Robert Hughes / Time / December 18, 1995
- Where Brâncuși's Independent Road LedBy Alan Riding / The New York Times / April 18, 1995
- Carving a way to heavenBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / January 3, 2004
- Cool Warmth, Buoyant Stone, Majestic WoodBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / June 18, 2004