From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Constantin Brâncuşi, or Brancusi, (February 19, 1876 – March 16, 1957, was an internationally renowned Romanian sculptor, born in Hobiţa, Gorj, near Târgu Jiu, whose sculptures blend simplicity and sophistication that led the way for modernist sculptors. His most iconic work is Princess X.
Both Bird in Space and Sleeping Muse I are sculptures of animate objects; however, unlike ones from Ancient Greece or Rome, or ones from the High Renaissance period, these works of art are more abstract in style.
Bird in Space is a series from the 1920s. One was constructed in 1925 using wood, stone, and marble (Richler 178). This one measures around seventy-two inches in height and consists of a narrow feather standing erect on a wooden base. Similar models, but made from different materials such as bronze, were also produced by Brancusi and placed in exhibitions.
Sleeping Muse I has different versions as well; one, from 1909-10 is made of marble and measures 6 ¾ in. in height (Adams 549). This is a model of a head, without a body, with markings to show features such as hair, nose, lips, and closed eyes. In A History of Western Art, Adams says that the sculpture has “an abstract, curvilinear quality and a smooth contour that create an impression of elegance” (549). These qualities which produce the effect can particularly be seen in the shape of the eyes and in the set of the mouth.
Working in Paris
In 1903 Brâncuşi 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.
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. Photographer Edward Steichen 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.
- Bust of a boy (1906)
- The Prayer (1907)
- La Sagesse de la Terre (1908)
- Mademoiselle Pogany (1912), Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Miss Pogany (1913)
- The Kiss 1916, Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Madame L.R. (1914–1918)
- A Muse (1917)
- Chimera (1918)
- Bird in Space", 1924, Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Portrait of Nancy Cunard (also called Sophisticated Young Lady) (1925–1927)
- Le Coq (1935)