Thence by descent
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture Collected by Yale Alumni, 1960
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection, Brancusi: Photographs and Sculpture, 1994
Although known primarily as a sculptor, Brancusi completed a select number of works on paper, many of which he made for his friends or patrons when they visited him at his studio. In contrast to the process of sculpting in marble or wood, drawing allowed for an immediacy of expression, and was a more liberal means of exploring the nuances of line and form. The creative freedom that Brancusi found in his drawing is evidenced by the present work, which he gave to his great friend and patron, Agnes Meyer, probably during the 1910s. The artist customarily signed these works - twice, in the case of this composition - but rarely dated them, making it difficult to ascribe a precise date of execution. Margit Rowell has suggested the date of circa 1912-18 for this work, based on the fact that it resembles the artist's sculptural series, La muse endormie, 1910-20, and was probably executed around the same time.
Some of Brancusi's works on paper were unrelated to his process of sculpting and regarded as autonomous images, while others prefigured or were based on his existing sculptures, as is most likely the case for the present work. This depiction of a woman's head, which was his preferred subject for these works on paper, was constructed with a variety of media that enhances its tactile appeal. The head is created with a soft, white gouache, similar in color and smoothness to his marble sculptures and plaster casts, and rendered with simplified, geometrical forms, and with modest, singular lines to represent the facial features and hair. Layering gouache upon india ink upon paper, and paper upon board, Brancusi has given dimension to this inherently two-dimensional composition. Rowell has written that Brancusi "drew on any support that came to hand, whether it be wrapping paper or torn bits of paper that he pasted down on pieces of cardboard (often salvaged from picture frames) in order to regularize or rectify the format" (Friedrich Teja Bach, Margit Rowell and Ann Temkin, Constantin Brancusi (exhibition catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1994-95, p. 286).
Much like his sculptures, this drawing demonstrates Brancusi’s agility at bringing forth the beauty inherent in pure form. According to Rowell, "at first glance, these drawings betray nothing of the sculptor's hand, yet it is there nonetheless. In order to create the effect of a volume heightened by light, Brancusi reversed the common dratsman's process. Instead of shading certain areas to make them recede, thereby giving an illusion of modeling or depth, he used white gouache to highlight the areas where the face might be thought of as catching the light. These whitened areas do not disrupt the form; on the contrary, they are analogous to the light playing on the polished surface of a sculpture" (ibid., p. 287).
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