Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture



















SCULPTURE BETWEEN THE WARS - Part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
SCULPTURE SINCE 1945 - Part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15




Sculpture, the most conservative of the arts throughout most of the nineteenth century, found it difficult to cast off the burden of tradition. It has remained far less adventurous on the whole than painting, which often influenced it. Indeed, the American sculptor David Smith claimed that modern sculpture was created by the painters, and to a remarkable degree he was right. Sculpture has successfully challenged the leadership of painting in our time only by following a separate path.


Henri Matisse.

Some of the most important experiments in sculpture were conducted by Matisse in the years
1907-14, when he was inspired by ethnographic sculpture, although there had been a growing interest in "primitive" art on the part of painters like Gauguin even before the first major public collections began to be formed in 1890. At first glance. Reclining Nude I (fig. 1124) seems utterly removed from Matisse's paintings. Yet sculpture was a natural complement to his pictures, which often share its "savage" element. It allowed him to investigate problems of form that in turn provided important lessons for his pictures. Despite the bulging distortions in the anatomy, which create an astonishing muscular tension, the artist was concerned above all with "arabesque": the rhythmic contours that define the nude. We will recognize the statuette's kinship with the recumbent figures in The Joy of Life (fig. 1036), which were also conceived in outline. But now these rhythms are explored plastically and manipulated for expressive effect. Remarkably, Matisse accomplishes this without diminishing the fundamentally classical character of the nude.

1124. Henri Matisse. Reclining Nude 1. 1907.
Bronze. The Baltimore Museum of Art.

1124. Henri Matisse. Reclining Nude 1. 1907.
Bronze. The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Henri Matisse.
Large Seated Nude
bronze, lost-wax cast

Henri Matisse. The Serf

Henri Matisse. The Back Series, bronze: The Back I, 1908–09, The Back II, 1913
Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Henri Matisse.The Back Series, bronze: The Back III 1916, The Back IV, c. 1931
Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Henri Matisse.The Serpentine

Henri Matisse. Tiari (Le Tiaré), 1930. Bronze.
Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas, Texas

Henri Matisse.
Two Women, 1907 Bronze.
Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas, Texas

Henri Matisse. Venus in a Shell II

Henri Matisse. Small Thin Torso. 1929, bronze.
The Baltimore Museum of Art

Henri Matisse. Magadliene I

Henri Matisse. Reclining Nude II

Constantin Brancusi.

Sculpture remained only a sideline for Matisse. Perhaps for that reason. Expressionism was a much less important current in sculpture than in painting. This may seem surprising, since the rediscovery of ethnographic sculpture by the Fauves might have been expected to evoke a strong response among sculptors. Yet the only one who shared in this interest was Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), a Romanian who went to Paris in 1904. However, he was more concerned with the formal simplicity and coherence of primitive carvings than in their savage expressiveness. This is evident in The Kiss (fig. 1125). executed in 1909 and now placed over a tomb in a Parisian cemetery.

The compactness and self-sufficiency of this group arc a radical step beyond Maillol's Seated Woman (see fig. 1009), to which it is related much as the Fauves are to Post-Impressionism. Brancusi has a "genius of omission" not unlike Matisse's. And his attitude toward art expresses the same optimistic faith so characteristic of early modernism: "Don't look for mysteries," he said. "I give you pure joy." To him, a monument is a permanent marker, like the steles of the ancients: an upright slab, symmetrical and immobile, and he disturbs this basic shape as little as possible. The embracing lovers are differentiated just enough to be separately identifiable, and seem more primeval than primitive. They are a timeless symbol of generation, innocent and anonymous—the exact opposite of Rodin's The Kiss (see fig. 971), where the contrast of flesh and stone mirrors the dualism or guilt and desire. Herein lies the genius of Brancusi: he posed the first successful alternative to Rodin, whose vast authority overwhelmed the creativity of many younger sculptors. In the process, Brancusi gave modern sculpture its independence.

Brancusi's work took another daring step about 1910, when he began to produce non-representational pieces in marble or metal. (He reserved his "primeval" style for wood and stone.) The former fall into two groups: variations on the egg shape and soaring, vertical "bird" motifs. In concentrating on two basic forms of such uncompromising simplicity, Brancusi strove for essences, not for Rodin's illusion of growth. He was fascinated by the antithesis of life as potential and as kinetic energy: the sell-contained perfection of the egg, which hides the mystery of all creation, and the pure dynamics of the creature released from this shell. The Newborn (fig. 1126) is a marvelously concise and witty, yet surprisingly sympathetic, portrayal of an infant's first cry upon entering the world.

Bird in Space (fig. 1127), made more than a decade later, is the culmination of Brancusi's art. It began as the figure of a mythical bird that talks, which he gradually simplified until it is no longer the abstract image of a bird. Rather, it is flight itself, made visible and concrete: "All my life I have sought the essence of flight," Brancusi stated, and he repeated the motif in variants of ever greater refinement. Its disembodied quality is emphasized by the high polish that gives the surface the reflectivity of a mirror, thus establishing a new continuity between the molded space within and the free space without.

1125. Constantin Brancusi. The Kiss. 1909. Stone, height 89.5 cm.
Tomb of T. Rachevskaia, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

1126. Constantin Brancusi.
The Newborn. 1915.
Marble, length 20.7 cm.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art

1127. Constantin Brancusi.
Bird of Space.
1928. Bronze.
The Museum of Modern Art,
New York



Constantin Brancusi

Constantin Brancusi, original name Romanian Constantin Brîncuși (born February 21, 1876, Hobiţa, Romania—died March 16, 1957, Paris, France), pioneer of modern abstract sculpture whose works in bronze and marble are characterized by a restrained, elegant use of pure form and exquisite finishing. A passionate wood-carver, he produced numerous wood sculptures, often with a folk flavour, and he frequently carved prototypes for works later executed in other materials. He is best known for his abstract sculptures of ovoid heads and birds in flight.

Early life and works
Brancusi’s parents, Nicolas and Maria Brancusi, were peasants who lived in the Romanian countryside; like other village children of that time, Constantin did not go to school. From the age of seven he worked as a herdsman, first watching the family flock, then working for other people in the Carpathian Mountains. It was then that the young shepherd learned to carve wood, a popular art in rural Romania for making spoons, bedposts, cheese presses, and facades of homes, all of which were ornamented with carvings. The style of these ornaments would influence several of Brancusi’s works. In his tastes, his bearing, and his way of life he would forever maintain the uncomplicated tastes of his origins.

When he was nine years old Brancusi went to Tîrgu Jiu, a town near Pestisani, in the Oltenia region of Romania, to look for work. First he worked for a dyer; two years later he went into the service of a grocer in Slatina; and then he became a domestic in a public house in Craiova, Oltenia’s chief town, where he remained for several years. He retained his taste for working in wood and undertook elaborate carving projects, such as the construction of a violin from an orange crate. Such feats attracted the attention of an industrialist, who in 1894 entered him in the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts. In order to attend the school, Brancusi had to learn how to read and write on his own.

In 1896, at age 20, Brancusi began to travel for the first time: he went to Vienna on the Danube and hired himself out as a woodworker to earn money for his stay. Since his ambition was to be a sculptor, in 1898 he entered the contest for admission to the Bucharest School of Fine Arts and was admitted. Although he was far more attracted to the work of the “independents” than to that of the academicians at his school, he nevertheless studied modeling and anatomy seriously.

In 1903, on his return from military service, Brancusi’s interest was aroused by the fame of Auguste Rodin, which had spread from Paris to Bucharest. Rodin’s audacious conceptions inspired the enthusiasm of the avant-garde and the indignation of the academicians. The example of Rodin inspired Brancusi to become curious about what was going on in the art world beyond the boundaries of his country, and so he went to Munich, Germany, where he stayed until the spring of 1904. He then decided to go to Paris, a costly trip for a man of modest means. He made the greater part of the trip on foot, with his pack on his back, and had to sell his watch to pay for a boat crossing on Lake Constance. He arrived in Paris in July.

Brancusi entered the École des Beaux-Arts, where he again entered an academician’s workshop, that of Antonin Mercié, who derived his work from Florentine Renaissance statuary. Brancusi worked with him for two years, but in order to earn a living he worked odd jobs. Orders for portraits from a few compatriots also helped him through difficult times. In 1906 he exhibited for the first time in Paris, in the state-sponsored Salon and then at the Salon d’Automne. With a spirit that was still quite Classical but showing great energy, his first works were influenced by the sinewy work of Rodin. In order to get away from that influence, Brancusi refused to enter Rodin’s workshop, for, he said, “one can do nothing beneath great trees.”

In 1907, commissioned to execute a rich landowner’s funeral monument in the Buzau Cemetery in Romania, Brancusi sculpted a statue of a young girl kneeling, entitled The Prayer, which represented the first stage of his evolution toward simplified forms. He participated for the first time in the Tinerimea Artistica exposition, an annual exhibition of new talent, in Bucharest, and rented a workshop in the Montparnasse area of Paris. Rodin’s influence appeared in Brancusi’s work for one last time in 1908 in the first version of the Sleeping Muse, a sculpture of a woman’s face in which the features suggest an unformed block of marble. Also in 1908 Brancusi executed his first truly original work, The Kiss, in which the vertical figures of two entwined adolescents form a closed volume with symmetrical lines. In one of his first experiments with direct carving, he affirmed the pure, organic use of form that was to become his trademark and that would influence the work of numerous artists, most immediately a series of sculptures executed by his friend Amedeo Modigliani starting in 1910.

In 1910 Brancusi executed a seminal version of the Sleeping Muse. The sculpture is an isolated, ovoid-shaped head executed in bronze, with details of the face drastically reduced so that the work has polished, pristine curves. Brancusi would experiment with this ovoid form frequently over the years in both plaster and bronze. In 1924 he created a pure marble ovoid shape devoid of any detail entitled Beginning of the World; as the title suggests, for Brancusi, this ovoid mass represented the very essence of form, or a sort of primal foundation of form that the artist did not care to alter with traditional sculptural techniques of modeling.

Brancusi extended his experiments with simplifying forms to his exploration of the bird in 1912 with Maiastra, a sculpture named after a miraculous bird from Romanian popular legends. The first version of the work was made of marble, with the bird, purified in form, represented with its head raised in flight. Brancusi followed this with 28 other versions over the next two decades. After 1919 his birds evolved into a series of polished-bronze sculptures, all entitled Bird in Space. The elliptical, slender lines of these figures put the very essence of rapid flight into concrete form.

During these years of radical experimentation, Brancusi’s work began to have an increasingly large, international audience. In 1913, while continuing to exhibit in the Paris Salon des Indépendants, he participated in the Armory Show in New York, Chicago, and Boston, showing five works including Mademoiselle Pogany, a schematized bust that would have numerous variations. Already known in the United States, Brancusi found faithful collectors there over subsequent decades. Meanwhile, critics around the world attacked the radical nature of his work.

Above all, Brancusi loved carving itself, which required, he said, “a confrontation without mercy between the artist and his materials.” He often carved in oak or in chestnut objects that he would later treat in bronze or marble. His work reflected the African tradition of direct carving. Indeed, like many avant-garde European artists at the time, Brancusi was interested in the “primitive” qualities of African arts. His first sculpture in wood, The Prodigal Son, in 1914, was very close to abstraction; it is a piece of rudely carved oak with the scarcely perceptible features of a human being. He would follow this path with a whole series of wood sculptures that are among his strangest works. He attached great importance to the wooden base of a sculpture and always constructed it himself, sometimes out of five or six superimposed pieces. (Brancusi even constructed his furniture, most of his utensils, and his pipe with his own hands.) In 1918 he sculpted in wood the first version of the Endless Column. Created through the repetition of superimposed symmetrical elements, this column, inspired by the pillars of Romanian peasant houses, embodied the need for spiritual elevation that Brancusi often expressed in his works.

Brancusi’s contribution to the Salon of 1920, Princess X, a portrait of an imaginary person that takes on a curiously phallic form, created a scandal. The police intervened and forced him to remove the work because it led to improper interpretation. In 1922 he sculpted the first versions of The Fish in marble and the Torso of a Young Man in wood. He returned to Romania for the first time in 1924, and in 1926 he visited the United States for an important exhibition of his works at the Brummer Gallery in New York. His shipments from France involved him in a two-year court case with U.S. customs officials because a work in copper, Bird in Space, was so abstract that officials refused to believe it was sculpture: Brancusi was accused of clandestinely introducing an industrial part into the United States. In 1928 he again traveled to the United States, where he had numerous buyers, and won his court case.

Late life and works
The Maharajah of Indore went to see Brancusi in Paris in 1933 and commissioned him to create a temple that would house his sculptures. Brancusi worked several years to create this temple, and in 1937 he went to India on the maharajah’s invitation. The latter’s death, however, prevented Brancusi from realizing the project. In the meantime Brancusi had returned to New York for a new exhibit at the Brummer Gallery in 1933, and in 1934 he participated in the exhibition “20th Century Painting and Sculpture” at the Chicago Renaissance Society. He returned to Romania again in 1937 and in 1938 for the inauguration of three monumental works in a public garden in Tîrgu Jiu: new enormous steel versions of the Endless Column, Gate of the Kiss, and Table of Silence.

In 1939 Brancusi made his last trip to the United States to participate in the “Art in Our Time” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He continued to explore his favourite themes in his late years, including the bird. His last important work was the Flying Turtle in 1943. Henceforth, numerous exhibitions in the United States and in Europe would secure his fame. The largest was an exhibit at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 1955. By a naturalization decree dated June 13, 1952, he acquired French citizenship.

Brancusi willed to the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris everything his workshop contained (more than 80 sculptures) on the condition that the workshop itself be moved to the museum and restored to its original condition. Part of this gift included hundreds of photographic prints he took, beginning in the 1920s, of his work and studio.

Jean Selz

Encyclopædia Britannica



In the second decade of the century a number of artists tackled the problem of body-space relationships with the formal tools of Cubism—no simple task, since Cubism was a painter's approach more suited to shallow relief and noteasily adapted to objects in the round. Most of the Cubist painters essayed at least a few sculptures, but the results were generally timid. Picasso's tentative efforts at sculpture attest to the difficulties he faced, yet they were of fundamental importance nonetheless. His attempts to translate the Analytic Cubism seen in Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (fig.
1049) into three-dimensional form succeeded only partially in breaking up the solid surface. Precisely because its facets are ambiguous in density and location, painting afforded an infinitely richer experience both visually and expressively.

Raymond Duchamp-Villon.

The boldest solution to the problems posed by Analytic Cubism in sculpture was achieved by the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1916), an elder brother of Marcel Duchamp. in The Great Horse (fig. 1128). He began with abstract studies of the animal, but his final version is an image of "horsepower," wherein the body has become a coiled spring and the legs resemble piston rods. Because of this very remoteness from their anatomical model, these quasi-mechanical shapes have a dynamism that is altogether persuasive.

Raymond Duchamp-Villon. The Great Horse. 1914.
Bronze, height 100 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago.




(b Damville, Eure, 5 Nov 1876; d Cannes, 7 Oct 1918).

French sculptor and draughtsman. The second son of a Normandy notary, he played a central role in the development of modern aesthetics, as did his elder brother JACQUES VILLON and his younger brother MARCEL DUCHAMP. He came from an educated family and was an assiduous student at secondary school in Rouen; in 1894 he registered at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris, where he attended classes for several years. Rheumatic fever forced him to break off his studies in 1898 just before completion and left him immobilized for a considerable length of time; this unforeseen event altered the whole course of his life. During this period of enforced leisure (1899–1900), he modelled small statuettes (of subjects such as familiar animals and female figures), discovering his true vocation as a sculptor. He was essentially self-taught and rapidly attained a high level of mastery and maturity. He settled in Paris c. 1901 and changed his name to Duchamp-Villon at his father’s insistence. As early as 1902 he exhibited a portrait of his future wife (whom he married in 1903) in the Société Nationale, and he exhibited works regularly at the Salon d’Automne from its foundation in 1903. In 1905 he held his first private exhibition with Jacques Villon in the Galerie Legrip, Rouen.



Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
Femme assise


Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
The Large Horse


Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
Portrait of Professor Gosset


Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
Torso of a Young Man


Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
The Lovers




Umberto Boccioni.

1912 the Futurists suddenly became absorbed with making sculpture, which they sought to redefine as radically as painting. They used "force-lines" to create an "arabesque of directional curves" as part of a "systematization of the interpenetration of planes." Hence, as Umberto Boccioni declared, "We break open the figure and enclose it in environment." His running figure entitled Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (fig. 1129) is as breathtaking in its complexity as Brancusi's Bird in Space is simple. Boccioni has attempted to represent not the human form itself, but the imprint of its motion upon the medium in which it moves. The figure itself remains concealed behind its "garment" of aerial turbulence. The picturesque statue recalls the famous Futurist statement that "the roaring automobile is more beautiful than the Winged Victory," although it obviously owes more to the Winged Victory (the Nike of Samothrace, fig. 216) than to the design of motor cars. (Fins and streamlining, in 1913, were still to come.) Boccioni's source of inspiration may have been even closer at hand: he could have seen the work of Niccolo dell'Arca (compare fig. 620).

1129. Umberto Boccioni.
Unique Yorms of Continuity in Space.
1913. Bronze.
The Museum of Modem Art, New York.



Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni, (born October 19, 1882, Reggio di Calabria, Italy—died August 16, 1916, Verona), Italian painter, sculptor, and theorist of the Futurist movement in art.

Boccioni was trained from 1898 to 1902 in the studio of the painter Giacomo Balla, where he learned to paint in the manner of the Pointillists. In 1907 he settled in Milan and gradually came under the influence of the poet Filippo Marinetti, who launched the literary movement Futurism, which glorified the dynamism of modern technology. Boccioni adapted Marinetti’s ideas to the visual arts and became the leading theoretician of Futurist art. In 1910 he and other painters drew up and published the Technical Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, promoting the representation of the symbols of modern technology—violence, power, and speed.

Boccioni’s first major Futurist painting, Riot in the Gallery (1909), remained close to Pointillism and showed an affiliation with Futurism mainly in its violent subject matter and dynamic composition. The City Rises (1910–11), however, is an exemplary Futurist painting in its representation of dynamism, motion, and speed. The swirling human figures in these crowd scenes are repetitively fragmented according to the Futurist style, but the rhythmic, muscular energy they generate is unrelated to the Futurist cult of the machine.

Boccioni was probably influenced by Cubism in 1911–12, and about this time he also became interested in sculpture. In 1912 he published the Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, several of whose suggestions anticipated developments in modern sculpture. Boccioni advocated the use in sculpture of non-traditional materials such as glass, wood, cement, cloth, and electric lights, and he called for the combination of a variety of materials in one piece of sculpture. He also envisioned a new type of sculpture that would mold and enclose the space within itself. In practice, however, Boccioni’s sculpture was much more traditional than his theories. Only Development of a Bottle in Space (1912) successfully creates a sculptural environment. His most famous work, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), is one of the masterpieces of early modern sculpture.

Boccioni enlisted in the army during World War I and was killed by a fall from a horse in 1916. He was the most talented of the Futurist artists, and his untimely death marked the virtual end of the movement.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Umberto Boccioni. Development of a Bottle in Space

Umberto Boccioni.
Dynamism of a Racing Horse

Umberto Boccioni. Antigraceful

Umberto Boccioni. Development of a Bottle in Space

Umberto Boccioni.
Synthesis of Human Dynamism

Umberto Boccioni. Anti-gracious

Umberto Boccioni.
Abstract Voids and Solids of a Head

Umberto Boccioni.
Head + House + Light


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