Constantin Brâncuși
Sculptor (1876-1956)

Perhaps the most prominent Romanian artist, given the way he managed to turn the Particular into the Universal and transform the latter into a symbolic condition, the great-grandson of the woodcarver Ion Brâncuși and the son of the freeholder ploughman (yeoman) Nicolae Radu Brâncuși and of Maria Diaconescu, the sculptor Constantin Brâncuși was born in the village of Hobița, the borough of Vulcan, Tismana District, Gorj County on 19 February 1876. He was the fifth of the family s seven children, and his mother dreamed at his birth that this son of hers would become a priest. He grew up at Hobița and enrolled in the elementary school from Peștișani, spending his holidays in the sheepfolds from the Parâng Mountains. When Constantin was 9, his father died; lest he should become a burden to his family, he left home for Slatina, where he worked as a shopman. His mother brought him back home but he fled once again, first to Târgu Jiu and then to Craiova, where he worked in a pub even for 18 hours a day. In 1884, he was an employee in Ioan Zamfirescu s tavern. There he made a pear-wood violin with a hazel-wood neck, following a bet with some brushmakers. Impressed by this, the tavern patrons (customers) persuaded the owner, Zamfirescu, to enrol the boy in the School of Arts and Crafts from Craiova. He ranked the highest among his graduating class of 16. At the age of 21, at the recommendation of his Austrian professor, Joseph Sicheri, he travelled by ship from Turnu Severin to Vienna, where he worked in a furniture factory. Between 1898 and 1892, he studied at the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. His professors there were the sculptor Dimitrie Paciurea, Vladimir Hegel (Brâncuși was engaged to his daughter for four years), the physician Dimitrie Gerota (together with whom he made the Ecorche), Al. Tzigara Samurcaș and the historian and archaeologist Grigore George Tocilescu, a member of the Romanian Academy.
In 1904 he went to Paris. The journey was difficult, asBrâncuși travelled mostly on foot (to Basel, Germany), and then by train. In Paris, the first years were extremely challenging; he worked in variouse stablishments and restaurants, but was eventually supported by three Romanian princesses, Martha Bibescu, Anna Brâncoveanu (the Countess of Noailles) and Elena Vacarescu, around whom the image-building and lobby activity of the Romanian Kingdom was structured, directed from Bucharest by Queen Elisabeta (Elisabeth of Neuwied, also called Carmen Sylva). They recommended him, through the painter from Oradea Otilia Cosmuță, a friend of Brâncuși s, to Auguste Rodin in order for the Romanian sculptor to become the latter s apprentice. Brâncuși remained in Rodin s workshop for two months (January-March 1907), during which time his fellow apprentice in sculpture was the engineer Henri Coandă. Rodin s behaviour caused Brâncuși to leave him. On his departure, hesaid: Nothing can grow in the shade of large trees. He rented a studio at 11 Impasse Ronsin, where he worked until his death. In 1910 he was discovered by the American Edward Steichen, who boughtone of the Magic Birds (Pasărea Măiastră). Steichen introduced him to the American financial elite and, in 1913, Walter Pach, Arthur B. Dumitru and Ernest Lawson organised in New York the greatest International Exhibition of Modern Art - The Armoury Show - where Brâncuși was also invited to exhibit his works. Here he was noticed by John Quin, one of the top art collectors in America. Quin assumed the role of launching Brâncuși overseas and introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz, whoin 1914 organised his first solo exhibition in the world, in New York. In 1922, in defence of Tristan Tzara, who had been accused of sharing Andre Breton s anti-Semitism, he signed a manifesto entitled There Are No Foreigners in Art!. When, in 1927, a solo exhibition was organised for him in Chicago, the U.S. customs officials perceived duty for his Bird in Space, considering it as a manufactured piece, even though artwork was exempt from duty tax upon entry into the USA. Brâncuși filed a suit against the U.S. Customs so that his sculpture would be recognised as a work of art. He had the most important American publications on his side and the massive media dissemination of this trial ensured his victory. This trial was dubbed The Trial of Modern Art, Brâncuși also securing thereby the legal recognition of the New Art of the Twentieth Century. Modest and quiet, Brâncuși fascinated all those with whom he came in contact, changing their outlooks and conceptions. It was said that they entered his workshop with their own ideas and left it with his ideas in mind. And the truth is that he carried with himself Romanian folk wisdom, the humour characteristic of Oltenia, as well as the fairy tales, parables, aphorisms, proverbs and sayings of a fabulous folklore, which has almost vanished today. Among his great friends there were George Enescu, Theodor Pallady, Rousseau Le Douanier, Jacob Epstein, Erik Satie, Max Ernst, Theo van Doesburg, Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Andre Gide, Paul Valery, James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, Traian Vuia, Henri Coandă, Camil Resu, Aurel Vlaicu, Ion Pillat, Paul Morand, Isamu Noguchi, Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Arp, Ezra Pound, Sidney Geist, Carola Gideon Welker, Petre Pandrea, V. G. Paleolog, Ilarie Voronca, Victor Brauner, George Brassai, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Morand, Hans Arp, Nicolae Titulescu, Man Ray, Oskar Kokoschka, Benjamin Fondane etc.
Brâncuși left behind giant disciples: the German sculptors Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Ernst Barlach, the American of Japanese extraction Isamu Noguchi (In Brâncuși I found my Japanese tradition), the Englishman Henry Moore (Brâncuși gave our epochthe consciousness of pure form), the Italian Berto Loreda, the Transylvanian Etienne Hajdu (Brâncuși s art is serene,harmonious, opposed to violent deformations. It is an art celebrating the joy of living, a luminous art, of intense vitality), Ion Jalea, Milița Pătrașcu... He organised reunions in his workshop, attended by all those who wanted to meet him. He improvised a cauldron for distilling plum brandy and served his guests with cabbage rolls and polenta, ground beef sausages and wine.
Brâncuși is unanimously considered to have completely revolutionised modern sculpture. From a technical standpoint, he introduced the polishing of metal artworks and the direct carving of art objects out of wood or stone. From anaesthetic standpoint, he rediscovered Neolithic Art, the essentiality of forms, the themes of various cosmogonies, conceptualising sculpture up to the point of philosophically polishing it. He retrieved the sacrality of art, invoking it through myths and archetypes, and he revitalised aesthetic expression by returning to simplicity and contemplation. In the Paris of avant-garde fervour, of search and multifarious experimentation, Brâncuși went through the lessons of cubism and surrealism, surpassing them, turning his back on the Greek model or that of Michelangelo and Rodin, models that he regarded as congealed; on the other hand, her ejected abstractionism, being attracted to the primitive arts, the African masks, the pre-Columbian sculptures, the Oriental arts. He carried with himself the treasure of his homeland s folk symbolism, the immemorial features of Romanian peasant sculptures, banished by the teachings of the Orthodox Church (Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image) and relegated to the space of utility furniture, of the carved gates and the porch columns of the houses, or of the funeral trees. He carried with himself the reminiscences of the great civilisation of wood that had survived in the rural basins of the Carpathian mountainous and sub-mountainous areas. Perhaps this was Brâncuși s greatest achievement, since he came from a country where sculpture had been officially for saken for centuries. This millenary tradition hadsurvived in the particular forms in which the people had attempted to preserve it. Moreover, Brâncuși blossomed in the City of Lights because of this mysterial core of archaisms and archetypal imprints. Fascinated by the Great Primordial Tradition (he was a contemporary of the Frenchman Rene Guenon s), the great Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa, Herodotus and Plato, the Celtic tales and archetypes that his friend James Joyce had revealed to him, and the Romanian fairy tales gathered by Petre Ispirescu, Brâncuși also picked the fruit of the esoteric concerns of the time, being, on the other hand, contemporary with Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, so much so that this Carpathian peasant became a Sage in Paris (Tristan Tzara called him the Geezer). Through the cycle of the 29 Birds, the other works (the cycle of the Columns, the Sculptural Ensemble The Heroes s Way in Târgu Jiu, The Egg, Flying Turtle, The King of Kings, The Cock, Prayer, Mademoiselle Pogany, Leda, Princess X, Prometheus, and so on), he offered the esoteric image of a mysterious Sacerdote of Art who stirred the depths of antiquity, returning modern man to himself, to the sources of his spiritual energies. In fact, Rousseau Le Douanier had told him: Brâncuși, you restore Antiquity! However, the defining expression related to the sculptor was given by the art historian and theorist Sir Herbert Read: Three milestones mark the History of Universal Sculpture: Phidias, Michelangelo, and Brâncuși. He died in Paris on 16 March 1957, and was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery, far away from his native country where he wanted to return and breathe his last, resting in the cemetery from the village of his childhood, Hobița, near the grave of his mother, Maria, from whom he had inherited his gentleness, piercing eyes and the joy of living. In 1951 Sadoveanu and others had disparaged him in two sessions of the Academy, rejecting his act of donation for the works in his Parisian workshop, calling him a decadent and worthless bourgeois man. Several months later, a report signed by the Communist Minister of Culture, Constanta Crăciun, stated that Brâncuși s works do not help build socialism in Romania. Eventually, Brâncuși applied for French citizenship and donated his workshop to France, which arranged a special museum for him right in the vicinity of the Modern Art Museum - the Georges Pompidou National Centre of Art and Culture. My life has been a sum of miracles, he exclaimed on his deathbed; it is just that his life was interspersed with long suffering and bitter trials, which he endured with stoic resistance. H.M.

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