Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)
The Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi is widely considered the leading pioneer of modernist sculpture. Working to reveal the essence of his subjects rather than merely copying outward appearances, he introduced abstracted, non-literal representation into the sphere of sculpture. In doing so, he established himself as a key figure in the Parisian avant-garde, while also gaining international notoriety among artists, critics, and the public.
Born to a poor peasant family in an area of rural Romania known for its rich tradition of folk art, particularly woodcarving, Brancusi himself took up woodcarving at an early age. He studied art in Romania at the Scoala de Meserli in Craivo and at the Scoala Natzionala de Arte Frumoase in Bucharest before leaving in 1903 for Munich. From there he went to Paris. Eager to continue his education, Brancusi enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts in 1905, and was subsequently invited to join the workshop of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Though he revered Rodin, Brancusi left the studio after only a couple of months—he is famously and widely quoted as saying that “nothing grows under the shadow of the great trees.”
Brancusi’s mature style began to emerge about 1907, as his work became increasingly simplified and abstracted. Unlike Rodin, who emphasized theatricality and the accumulation of detail, Brancusi suppressed decoration and explicit narrative references in an effort to create pure and resonant forms that captured the essence of his subjects. His technique is also noteworthy—unlike most of his contemporaries, he focused on direct carving in marble and stone rather than modeling in clay or plaster first. This allowed him to move toward a purification of form, a focus on the essential. He created his first major work carved directly from stone, The Kiss, in 1907-1908.