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Oiseau dans l’espace (Bird in Space), 1926-27

Brancusi was famously dissatisfied with photographs of his works taken by anyone other than himself. This in spite of the fact that his sculptures were at different times photographed by masters of the medium such as Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

The main reason behind this diffidence seems to be Brancusi’s use of photography as an integral part to his creative process. In his relentless search for formal purity, the sculptor used photographs as the means to control the positioning and lighting of the works, thus fixing an ‘ideal’ view for them. Once he felt he had achieved formal perfection in three dimensions through sculpture, photography allowed him to gain control over the fourth dimension, time. It could be argued, from this point of view, that Brancusi’s photographs represent the culmination of his artistic research, paradoxically, for a sculptor, in two dimensions.

Oiseau dans l’espace belongs in a group of works exploring the theme of birds and flight, which had its beginnings around 1911 with Maiastra. The Bird in Space series spanned between 1924 and 1941. It saw a progressive development in the direction of verticality (achieved by increasing height and decreasing depth of the work) and de-materialisation of the figure, suggested by the use of light over reflecting surfaces (an aspect particularly highlighted by the photographs). The measurement inscribed on the verso of the Kettle’s Yard image (53 inches) suggests that this is one of the two versions in polished bronze of the work, made in 1926 and 1927.

To watch a short film about Bird in Space click here

Provenance: gift of the artist to H.S. Ede, circa 1934 (?)

Photograph [CB 7]

Reserve Collection

Black and white photograph

243 x 181 mm

About the artist

Brancusi was born in Hobitza, Romania. In 1904 he moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life. His early work was influenced by traditional Romanian carving, but in Paris, under Rodin's influence, he gradually evolved a pure, abstract manner that strove to depict the formal essence of objects without rejecting the natural world.