Constantin Brâncuși was a Romanian sculptor, painter and photographer who made his career in France. Considered a pioneer of modernism, one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th-century, Brâncuși is called the patriarch of modern sculpture.
As a child he displayed an aptitude for carving wooden farm tools. Formal studies took him first to Bucharest, then to Munich, then to the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1905 to 1907. His art emphasizes clean geometrical lines that balance forms inherent in his materials with the symbolic allusions of representational art. Brâncuși sought inspiration in non-European cultures as a source of primitive exoticism, as did Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, André Derain and others. But other influences emerge from Romanian folk art traceable through Byzantine and Dionysian traditions.
Brâncuși grew up in a village close to Romania's Carpathian Mountains. His parents were poor peasants and young he herded the family's flock of sheep. When he was 18, Brâncuși created a violin by hand. Impressed by Brâncuși's talent for carving, an industrialist entered him in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts, where he pursued his love for woodworking, graduating with honors in 1898. He enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, where he received academic training in sculpture. He worked hard, and quickly distinguished himself as talented.
In 1903, Brâncuși 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. but left after only two months, saying, "Nothing can grow under big trees." After leaving Rodin's workshop, Brâncuși began developing the revolutionary style for which he is known. His first commissioned work, "The Prayer" marks the first step toward abstracted, non-literal representation. 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 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. 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. It represented Princess Marie Bonaparte, direct descendant of the younger brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Brâncuși 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.
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 "Măiastra" series. In Romanian folklore the Măiastra is a beautiful golden bird who foretells the future and cures the blind. Over the following 20 years, Brâncuși would make 20-some versions of "Bird in Space" out of marble or bronze.
In 1938, he finished the World War I monument in Târgu-Jiu where he had spent much of his childhood. "Table of Silence", "The Gate of the Kiss", and "Endless Column" commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Romanian's who in 1916 defended Târgu Jiu from the forces of the Central Powers. The Târgu Jiu ensemble marks the apex of his artistic career. In his remaining 19 years he created less than 15 pieces.
Brâncuși 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. He died on March 16, 1957, aged 81. He was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.