Constantin Brancusi - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Vera Moore, the artist’s wife
    John Moore, the artist’s son
    Galerie Flak, Paris
    Private Collection, Paris

  • Literature

    Centre Georges Pompidou, Les carnets de l'Atelier Brancusi, no. 126 for a variant
    Coplans, Brancusi: Photographer, pls. 88-91 for a series of variants

  • Catalogue Essay

    While seven variant images of Constantin Brancusi’s famed Bird in Space reside in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the print being offered in the current lot is likely to be a unique example of this image.

    Constantin Brancusi’s photographs of his sculptures reveal his ongoing evolution in both practices. After studying at the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova (1894–1898)and the National School of Fine Arts in Bucharest (1898–1902), Brancusi moved to Paris in 1904. The next year he enrolled at the famed École des Beaux-Arts and soon began an apprenticeship under the sculptor August Rodin. The latter introduced Brancusi to the then-budding American photographer Edward Steichen, possibly the first practitioner of the medium who would come to influence Brancusi’s photographs. In 1905, Brancusi began photographing his own sculptures, always within the intimate and
    familiar confines of his studio.

    In 1907 Brancusi began carving—as opposed to molding—his sculptures, which, over the next few decades, would become increasingly streamlined, simplified and abstract. Perhaps no other body of work reflects the evolution of his approach as much as Bird in Space, of which the current lot is an example. Interestingly, this body of work began in the 1920s, shortly after Brancusi crossed paths with another American photographer, Man Ray. From that point forward, Brancusi’s photographic exploration of his work became far more extensive and meticulous. It was his strong belief that only he, as the sculptor, could capture the essence of his works in his photographs. In fact, upon seeing Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph of his studio, Brancusi lamented, “the photograph is beautiful, but it does not represent my work.” Indeed, from his perspective, the photographs of his sculptures were to serve a purpose that was beyond documentarian. For Brancusi, they were to serve a dual function—enhancing his understanding of his sculptures as well as turning the photographs into “printed memories,” as he termed them, depictions of the sculptures’ essence by which he wanted them remembered.

    The current lot depicts Brancusi’s Bird in Space, circa 1932, one of seven marble variants of the same title. Photographs of variants created as early as 1923 often depict the sculptures surrounded by raw chunks of stone or other sculptures by Brancusi. In that regard, the sleek and impossibly elegant beauty of the Bird in Space sculptures was understood in relation to other, more rugged, voluminous forms.

    By 1930, however, Brancusi eliminated almost all surrounding objects and allowed the Bird in Space sculptures to autonomously occupy the frame. Further accentuating their domineering presence, Brancusi often lit the sculptures from above, rendering them as dramatic verticals searing across the frame. In the current lot Brancusi further abstracted his depiction of the sculpture. A rhomboid-shaped source of light illuminates the sculpture, casting a penumbral echo on the wall behind it and thereby doubling the sculpture’s presence within the frame. A clean-edged shadow is cut into the wall, thereby presenting a photographic “carving”, in keeping with Brancusi’s preferred method of sculpting. Moreover, the clearly delineated silhouette potentially pays a nuanced homage to the rayographs pioneered by Brancusi’s photographic mentor, Man Ray. Indeed, Bird in Space, circa 1932, is a majestic and compelling depiction of Brancusi’s continued exploration of his own work through his newfound passion for photography.


L’oiseau dans l’espace avec l'ombre de la fenêtre (Bird in Space)

circa 1932
Gelatin silver print.
9 1/2 x 7 in. (24.1 x 17.8 cm)

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $110,500

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs
+ 1 212 940 1245


3 April 2013
New York