Sunday 10 March 2013

Sculptor Constantin Brancusi's Atelier in Paris at the Pompidou

Mademoiselle Pogany III by Constantin Brancusi 1933 Centre Georges Pompidou
The atelier of Constantin Brancusi shows the culmination of the sculptor's work at the forefront of the French avant-guarde, reports Jeanne-Marie Cilento from Paris.

"There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things." ~ Constantin Brancusi

Hidden away in the narrow streets crowding around Rue Rambuteau in Paris is the atelier of Modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Italian architect Renzo Piano designed and recreated the sculptor’s studio as it was left in 1957 in a new building tucked in behind the soaring staircases of the Pompidou.

Filled with Brancusi’s most evocative sculptures such as Bird in Space, A Muse and Infinite Columns, the studio is a way of experiencing the artist’s best work. He spent his last years grouping, regrouping and photographing his large works to achieve the ideal spatial arrangement. The Atelier Brancusi is the high-point of the artist’s work and an atmospheric way of viewing his famous sculptures exactly in the context he planned them to be seen. One of the great pioneers of modernism, he is considered the originator of modern, abstract sculpture.

Today Brancusi’s work commands millions - the Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé sale in 2009 of Madame LR sold for a record 29.185 million euros - yet the sculptor started life as a poor Romanian peasant. While his parents labored in the fields near the Carpathian mountains, Constantin herded sheep and by nine years old was working in the local town at a public house. It is a remarkable leap from this rural, agricultural background to becoming a world-reknowned artist - in his own lifetime. But Brancusi’s natural aptitude for wood-carving stood him in great stead.

As an eighteen year old lover of music and especially Romanian folk songs he created his own violin. It was so well done that a local businessman recognized his latent talent and enrolled him at the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts. He studied wood-working and graduated with honours in 1898. He then went on to receive his academic training in sculpture at the Bucharest School of Fine Arts.

In 1904 he travelled to Paris and arrived amid the French capital's foment of new ideas, becoming part of the Parisian avant guarde of the 1910s and 1920s. The sculptor worked with Auguste Rodin for several months but decided that although he admired his work "nothing can grow under big trees". Brancusi was part of a group of artists and intellectuals that included Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Guillaume Apollinaire, Henri Rousseau and Fernand Leger.

Although Brancusi remained based in Paris for the rest of his life, he still liked to dress simply like a Romanian peasant and his house and studio were filled with the rough-hewn furniture in wood and stone that was familiar from his childhood and that we see today in his atelier. Brancusi's philosophy valued "differentiating the essential from the ephemeral" and Plato and Lao-Tzu were great influences. An idealist and ascetic later in life, visitors to his studio noted its tranquil, spiritual atmosphere.

The Atelier Brancusi has been moved from it’s original location in Impasse Ronsin in the 15th arrondissment but the studio still provides a calm respite from the Parisian hurly-burly outside. The four small studios and workshops are full of Brancusi's carefully arranged series of sculptures and all of his tools that he left to the Musee National D'Art Moderne in 1956. 

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Click photographs for full-screen slideshow
One of Brancusi's four interconnected studios with his sculptures carefully placed in groups, including Leda and Colonnes sans Fin

Leda ~ polished bronze on a base of black stone and stainless steel ~ 1926

Yves Saint Laurent's Portrait of Madame LR that sold for 29.85 million euros

Constantin Brancusi in his studio in 1934

The studio recreated (above) from the original (below) with Brancusi's series of large works ~ Colonnes sans fin and Grands Coqs. He didn't want to move these as he believed he had found the best arrangement for them to seen as the culmination of his life's work.

Photograph taken in Brancusi's Paris studio in 1929 including the sculptures Léda, Colonnes sans fin I à III and Chimère.

Sculptures organised by Brancusi around the great stone fireplace from his original atelier.

Brancusi's workshop and studio as he left it in 1957 with the famous Bird in Flight in the foreground.

Tools cover the work benches and walls near the forge in Brancusi's studio. The sculptor carved directly into his material whether it was wood, marble or plaster to try and reach the form within. He made or modified many of his own tools and used grindstones and sanders to give a highly polished sheen to his marble and bronze sculptures. 

One of Brancusi's studies for Muse.

Sculptures from left to right are Mlle Pogany and studies for a Muse and Danaide.

The Kiss sculpted in stone in 1923

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