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Prometheus, 1912

Constantin Brancusi established the main themes of his art at a relatively early stage and persisted in their refinement and development in the remainder of his career. Prometheus lies in a sequence of works dealing with recumbent, isolated heads. The majority of these revolve around the apparently contrasting subjects of sleep and torment, two themes which the sculptor often attempted to balance in his work.

Prometheus, in Greek mythology one of the Titans and god of fire, tricked Zeus, the chief god, into accepting the bones and fat of sacrifice instead of the meat. When Zeus hid fire from man to punish him, Prometheus stole it and returned it to Earth once again. As punishment, Zeus had him chained to a rock and sent an eagle to eat his liver, which constantly replenished itself. In Brancusi’s interpretation of Prometheus’ tragic fate, the head – apparently a portrait of an actual boy – is inclined in a gesture that suggests both pain and eternal rest. The title may also refer to Prometheus as the original artist, the creator defiant of the Gods, an idea which had been taken up by the German Romantics and was familiar to Brancusi.

The cement cast at Kettle’s Yard was made from the marble original of 1911. It is one of several versions in different materials. The features of the head barely emerge from the cement. The smooth surface is offset by the reflections cast in the lid of the piano. This gives the viewer a real sense of the volume of the object. Yet, in a characteristic combination of contrasting visual effects recurrent throughout the house, Jim Ede’s choice of placing the sculpture on the piano makes it also appear as if it is floating, creating a remarkable tension between weight and lightness.

Provenance: gift of the artist to Vera Moore, 1930s; purchased by H. S. Ede from Vera Moore, 1969 (having been on loan to Kettle’s Yard from 1967).

Sculpture [CB 2]


Cement cast

137 x 178 x 136 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.