„Create like a God, command like a king, work like a slave”
Sculptor Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, born February 19, 1876 – died March 6, 1957) is best known for the uniquely reductive, Modernist visual vocabulary he used in sculptures to depict a wide variety of subjects, such as fish, birds, and couples kissing. Born in Hobita, Romania, Brancusi studied art in his native country as a youth, before leaving for Paris in 1904 to continue his education at the École des Beaux-Arts. There he was invited to work with famed sculptor Auguste Rodin, but declined the offer and decided to work on his own, preferring to use the most reduced forms possible in his sculptures, as opposed to the overtly worked exteriors of Rodin’s pieces.
In both marble and wood, Brancusi devoted himself to depicting the essence of his subjects through only the most fundamental forms, using ovoid and elliptical shapes to evoke movement, repose, and spiritual qualities. During his mature career, Brancusi befriended several of the leading avant-garde artists living in Paris at the time, and began to exhibit his work in Paris, Bucharest, and New York—most famously in the controversial 1913 Armory Show at artist and dealer Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, 291. In addition to working with marble, Brancusi created several works in wood, which often took the form of specific personages, unlike his marble works. Later in life, he traveled throughout Europe, India, and Asia before returning to Paris, where he continued to work until his death in 1957.
Brancusi’s work is in the collections of major institutions around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Museum of Chicago, the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio di Janeiro.
Important Art by Constantin Brâncuși
- The Kiss (1907-1908)
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.
- Sleeping Muse I (1909-10)
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.
- Endless Column (1918)
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.
- Gate of the Kiss (1938)
This evocative gate stands at the entrance to Târgu Jiu’s central park and is a logical place to begin a tour of Constantin Brâncuşi’s sculptures. The small but moving Gate of the Kiss is in the shape of an arch and is meant to commemorate Romania’s unification at the end of WWI.
- Table of Silence (1938)
The Table of Silence, one of Constantin Brâncuşi’s sculptures, stands at the western end of Târgu Jiu’s central park on the banks of the Jiu River. The work is comprised of a circular stone table with 12 chairs. The table represents where soldiers gather in silence before a battle. There’s one chair for each month of the year; their hourglass shapes stand for the passage of time.