Constantin Brancusi (French, born Romania, 1876–1957)
H. (with base) 56 3/4 in. (144.1 cm), Diam. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn, 1995 (1996.403.7ab)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Born in Romania, Constantin Brancusi first studied sculpture at the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova (1894–98) and the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest (1898–1902). In 1904, he left Romania permanently, traveling through Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Zurich, and Basel on his way to Paris. There, he continued his training at the École des Beaux-Arts (1905–7), and his work of the period attracted the attention of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. About 1907, Brancusi began to work by direct carving as a means of distancing himself from Rodin's style. In Paris, Brancusi associated with many artists of the day, including Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Amedeo Modigliani, and Marcel Duchamp. He showed five of his sculptures in the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and continued to exhibit widely throughout his life.
From the 1920s to the '40s, Brancusi was preoccupied by the theme of a bird in flight. He concentrated not on the physical attributes of the bird but on its movement. In Bird in Space, wings and feathers are eliminated, the swell of the body is elongated, and the head and beak are reduced to a slanted oval plane. Balanced on a slender conical footing, the figure's upward thrust is unfettered. Brancusi's inspired abstraction realizes his stated intent to capture "the essence of flight."
The Museum's Bird in Space is the first in a series of seven sculptures carved from marble and nine cast in bronze, all of which were painstakingly smoothed and polished. It was first owned by Brancusi's great American patron John Quinn, who saw the work in progress in the sculptor's Paris studio. Upon its completion in December 1923, Quinn had it shipped to New York, where nineteen years later, in 1942, it was acquired by Florene M. Schoenborn and her first husband, Samuel A. Marx.