Constantin Brancusi - Photographs London Friday, October 25, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of John Quinn, New York
    Marc Pagneux, Paris
    Sotheby's, London, 20 May 2010, lot 8
    Private Collection, UK

  • Literature

    A. Dreyfus, ‘Constantin Brancusi’, Der Querschnitt, 1923, p. 117
    Brancusi photographer, Akron: Akron Art Museum, 1980, pl. 77
    Brancusi: Photo Reflection, Paris: Didier Imbert Fine Art, 1991, pl. 27, 28

  • Catalogue Essay

    Photography became fundamental to the master sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s practice. Alongside his sculptures, Brancusi explored the photographic medium as an expressive art form, taking photographs of his sculptures and his studio to visualise his artistic intentions and interact with his sculptures. When discussing his works, Brancusi is known to have asked, ‘Why write? Why not just show the photographs?’

    The photograph, offered here, shows Brancusi’s 1909 sculpture Femme se regardant dans un miroir, which was inspired by his meeting with Princess Marie Bonaparte, the great grand-niece of Napoleon, who had requested a bust of herself. ‘She had a beautiful bust, but ugly legs and was terribly vain,’ remembers Brancusi. ‘She was looking in the mirror all the time, even during lunch … discreetly placing the mirror on the table, looking furtive. She was vain and sensual.’ In the photograph, the sculpted head, seen from behind, tilts slightly downward as if she is gazing at her reflection. Dissatisfied with his sculpture Femme se regardant dans un miroir, Brancusi took this photograph in 1909 with the intention of re-carving it. Between 1909 and 1915, he transformed the sculpture into Princess X (currently held at Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, Nebraska). One of Brancusi’s most controversial works, the bronze version of Princess X was temporarily banned at the 1920 Salon des Indépendants in Paris on grounds of obscenity. Brancusi’s 1909 sculpture Femme se regardant dans un miroir exists only through his photographs, which provide an insight into the creative process of one of 20th century’s most influential sculptors.

    While the photograph of Femme se regardant dans un miroir was taken in 1909 when the sculpture was created, it is likely that the print offered here – along with all of the other known early prints of this image – was made a decade later in the early 1920s. The dating of these prints coincides with Man Ray’s arrival in Paris in 1921 for it was Man Ray who taught Brancusi how to develop his photographs and helped him to set up a darkroom in his workshop. Brancusi’s archive, housed at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, holds a 13 x 18 cm glass plate negative and 10 prints of this image. As of this writing, no more than five early prints of this image – all held privately – are known.

    This print was originally in the collection of John Quinn (1870-1924). Quinn was an American collector and patron and an early supporter of the work of Brancusi and other artists of the day. A lawyer, Quinn defended the American distribution of James Joyce’s Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Quinn’s collection, which included masterpieces by Brancusi, Henri Matisse, André Derain and Marsden Hartley, among many others, was auctioned in New York City in 1927. Quinn’s annotation 'Brancusi Early Transition period before 1913' found on the verso suggests that this photograph captures the sculpture in the early stages of its radical transformation from Femme se regardant dans un miroir into the abstract Princess X.


Femme se regardant dans un miroir [Woman looking into a mirror]

Gelatin silver print, likely printed early 1920s.
29.7 x 23.8 cm (11 3/4 x 9 3/8 in.)
Annotated by John Quinn 'Brancusi Early Transition period before 1913' in ink on the verso.

£20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for £43,750

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London Auction 25 October 2019