Constantin Brancusi – The Romanian Artist Who “Worked Like a Slave, Commanded Like a King, Created Like a God”
Whoever launches Google today can see that the international community celebrates one of the most brilliant personalities in the artistic world: the Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who defined himself once by an exhortation that sounds like this: “Work like a slave, command like a king, create like a god.”
Constantin Brancusi is one of the greatest sculptors in the history of mankind, some say he is the best; he is not the only Romanian to affirm as an astounding worldwide genius, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Mircea Eliade, the renowned phenomenologist of religion; the founder of Dadaism,Tristan Tzara, whose name’s translation, “There is sadness in the country,” epitomizes the destiny of Romania, a beautiful country, with marvelous people, and fantastic landscapes, with huge natural resources but with the worst leadership in the entire galaxy; Doctor Nicolae Paulescu, the inventor of insulin, who was deprived of the authorship of his invention and the Nobel Prize for some of his politically incorrect visions in
his time; Henry Coanda, inventor of reaction engine for planes; Nicholas Tesla, whose Serbian family was of a Romanian background, while his inventions brought him the title of “the extraterrestrial” (some say some of them are yet to be revealed to the world); Emil Cioran, who explored the pain and suffering of godlessness like no other; Eugene Ionesco, inventor of the absurd theater, resounding the meaninglessness of the society he had to leave when he moved to Paris; Ana Aslan a genius doctor who invented Gerovital; Nicolae Titulescu, one of the most distinguished diplomats in the history of the twentieth century; Dumitru Staniloae, the greatest Romanian theologian, probably one of the greatest in the history of XX century; Nadia Comaneci, the first athlete to ever be marked with 10 in World Olympics; George Enescu, a composer as good as Dvorak, Smetana, or any other of his age; and the list could go on for days.
A common feature of all these personalities is that they acquired recognition abroad, while in their own country they were at most neglected.
In that they followed a pattern set by Romanian geniuses Peter Mohyla, the Metropolitan of Kiev, Ukraine, in the seventeenth century, whose leadership and scholarship made him one of the most respected personalities of his age; and Dimitrie Cantemir, the scholar prince whose works of history and philosophy are referential for the eighteenth century to such a point that he was nominated as member of the Academy in Berlin, an honor that was rarely bestowed on an outlander, and was also a friend of the reforming prince and emperor Peter I of Russia, at whose court Cantemir lived for the rest of his life after he was no longer a ruler of his country.
With such an illustrious background, it comes as no surprise that Brancusi really impressed those who knew him in person, and those who knew him from his works later, after he passed away.
He was born on February 19, 1876, in Hobita, a village near the town Targu Jiu, in the district of Gorj, in the southern part of Romania, to a family of poor peasants but in a region full of folklore traditions that date as back as millenia.
The geometric pattern of the folk art that is inspired from this ancient tradition can be retrieved in every single work of Brancusi.
Brancusi attended various schools of craftsmanship in the towns nearby, and by 18, he attended the classes of the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova, Romania.
He went then to the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, where he received academic training in sculpture. It was then he made his first remarkable work, an ecorché that was displayed in the Romanian Athenaeum in 1903.
In 1903, he traveled to Munich, and then to Paris, where he was well received by the intellectuals, worked in the workshop of Antonin Mercié, and was invited to join the workshop of Auguste Rodin, where he stood two months only, because, in his own words, “Nothing can grow under the big trees.”
As soon as he left Rodin’s workshop, he began developing the style that made him renowned in the world.
In 1913 his works were displayed at Salon des Independants, in France, and at Armory Show, in the United States.
In 1920, he was in the center of a scandal as he displayed Princess X at the Salon. Though he explained that the portrait was not representing someone in particular, the phallic shape of it led to its removal from the Salon. It would seem, however, that he was caricaturizing the life of Princess Marie Bonaparte, relative of the famous French emperor.
“Bird in Space” was a project that needed twenty years to be completed. It draws on the Romanian legend of the “Maiastra,” the master bird that was foretelling the fortune. He made as much as 20 versions of these birds.
One of these birds created a scandal that involved the American customs office, which charged it with the tax for industrial product, in stead of exempting it from the taxes because it was a work of art.
The trial that followed averted the decision of the customs and brought him huge popularity in America.
In 1938 he completed a sculptural compound formed of some of the most outstanding of his works: “Table of Silence,” “The Gate of Kiss,” and “The Endless Column.”
This fascinating complex was placed in the city of Targu Jiu, in Romania, and was cherished by Romanians ever since, being very much resounding in their hearts as its components remind of ancient Romanian myths and legends.
He died on March 16, 1957, at 81, living behind 215 sculptures, and 1200 photos. He was buried in the cemetery of Montparnasse, in Paris.
In one of his moments of reflexive philosphy, he said about himself that his work was grasping the reality and the essence of things, without being abstract.11