Constantin Brâncuşi (February 19, 1876 – March 16, 1957) pronounced [konstanˈtin brɨnˈkuʃʲ]), was an internationally renowned Romanian sculptor whose sculptures, which blend simplicity and sophistication, led the way for modernist sculptors.
Brâncuşi grew up in the village of Hobiţa Romania, Gorj, near Târgu Jiu, near Romania's Carpathian Mountains, an area known for its rich tradition of folk crafts, particularly ornate woodcarving. The simple geometric patterns of the craftsmen is seen in his mature works.
His parents, Nicolae and Maria Brâncuşi, were poor peasants who earned a meagre living through back-breaking labor, and from the age of seven he herded the family's flock of sheep. He showed remarkable talent for carving objects out of wood. Strong-willed and determined, he often ran away from home to escape the bullying of his father and older brothers.
At the age nine Brâncuşi left the village to work at menial jobs in the nearest large town. At 13 he went to Craiova, where he worked at a grocery store for several years. When he was 18, impressed by Brâncuşi's talent for carving, his employer financed his education at the Craiova Şcoala de Meserii (School of Crafts). There he indulged his love for woodworking, taught himself to read and write, and graduated with honors in 1898.
He then enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts,where he received academic training in sculpture. He worked hard, and quickly distinguished himself as talented. One of his earliest surviving works, under the guidance of his anatomy teacher, Dimitrie Gerota, is a masterfully rendered écorché (statue of a man with skin removed to reveal the muscles underneath) which was exhibited at the Romanian Athenaeum in 1903. Though just an anatomical study, it foreshadowed the sculptor's later efforts to reveal essence rather than merely copy outward appearance.
In 1903 Brâncuși traveled to Munich, and from there to Paris. In Paris, he was welcomed by the community of artists and intellectuals brimming with new ideas. He worked for two years in the workshop of Antonin Mercié of the École des Beaux-Arts, and was invited to enter the workshop of Auguste Rodin. Even though he admired the eminent Rodin he left the Rodin studio after only two months, saying, "Nothing can grow under big trees."
After leaving Rodin's workshop, Brâncuşi began developing the revolutionary style for which he is known. His first commissioned work, "The Prayer", was part of a gravestone memorial. It depicts a young woman crossing herself as she kneels, and marks the first step toward abstracted, non-literal representation, and shows his drive to depict "not the outer form but the idea, the essence of things." He also began doing more carving, rather than the method popular with his contemporaries, that of modeling in clay or plaster which would be cast in metal, and by 1908 he worked almost exclusively by carving.In the following few years he made many versions of "Sleeping Muse" and "The Kiss", further simplifying forms to geometrical and sparse objects.His works became popular in France, Romania and the United States. Collectors, notably John Quinn, bought his pieces, and reviewers praised his works. In 1913 Brâncuşi's work was displayed at both the Salon des Indépendants and the first exhibition in the U.S. of modern art, the Armory Show.
In 1920 he developed a notorious reputation with the entry of "Princess X" in the Salon. The phallic shape of the piece scandalized the Salon, and despite Brâncuşi's explanation that it was an anonymous portrait, removed it from the exhibition. "Princess X" was revealed to be Princess Marie Bonaparte, direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte. Brâncuşi represented or caricatured her life as a large gleaming bronze phallus. This phallus symbolizes the model's obsession with the penis and her lifelong quest to achieve vaginal orgasm, with the help of Sigmund Freud. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, condemned orgasm by clitoral stimulation and praised vaginal orgasm with a penis as the superior and only legitimate type. His condemnation echoed the social mores of his era which condemned masturbation as both morally harmful and as a cause of mental disorders. Her search for the elusive vaginal orgasm led her to have two unsuccessful surgeries and numerous affairs throughout her life with wealthy and famous men.
Around this time he began crafting the bases for his sculptures with much care and originality because he considered them important to the works themselves.
He began working on the group of sculptures that are known as "Bird in Space" — simple shapes representing a bird in flight. The works are based on his earlier "Maiastra" series. In Romanian folklore the Maiastra is a beautiful golden bird who foretells the future and cures the blind. Over the following 20 years, Brâncuşi would make 20-some versions of "Bird in Space" out of marble or bronze. Edward Steichen, a prominent photographer, purchased one of the "birds" in 1926 and shipped it to the United States. However, the customs officers did not accept the "bird" as a work of art and placed a duty upon its import as an industrial item. They charged the high tax placed upon raw metals instead of the no tax on art. A trial the next year overturned the assessment. Athena Tacha Spear's book, Brâncuși's Birds, (CAA monographs XXI, NYU Press, New York, 1969), first sorted out the 36 versions and their development, from the early Maiastra, to the Golden Bird of the late teens, to the Bird in Space, which emerged in the early '20s and which Brâncuși perfected all his life.
His work became popular in the U.S., however, and he visited several times during his life. Worldwide fame in 1933 brought him the commission of building a meditation temple in India for Maharajah of Indore, but when Brâncuşi went to India in 1937 to complete the plans and begin construction, the Mahrajah was away and lost interest in the project when he returned.
In 1938, he finished the World War I monument in Tîrgu-Jiu where he had spent much of his childhood. "Table of Silence", "Gate of the Kiss", and "Endless Column" commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Romanian civilians who in 1916 fought off a German invasion. The restoration of this ensemble was spearheaded by the World Monuments Fund and was completed in 2004.
The Târgu Jiu ensemble marks the apex of his artistic career. In his remaining 19 years he created less than 15 pieces, mostly reworking earlier themes, and while his fame grew he withdrew. In 1956 Life magazine reported, "Wearing white pajamas and a yellow gnomelike cap, Brâncuşi today hobbles about his studio tenderly caring for and communing with the silent host of fish birds, heads, and endless columns which he created."
Brâncuşi was cared for in his later years by a Romanian refugee couple. He became a French citizen in 1952 in order to make the caregivers his heirs, and to bequeath his studio and its contents to the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris.
"Work like a slave, command like a king, create like deity(God)"