Chimera

Constantin Brancusi, French (born Romania), 1876 - 1957

Date:
1915-18

Medium:
Oak

Dimensions:
60 1/4 x 8 5/8 x 9 1/2 inches (153 x 21.9 x 24.1 cm)

Copyright:
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
Modern Art

Object Location:

* Gallery 188, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Brodsky Gallery)

Accession Number:
1950-134-13

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationConstantin Brancusi: 1876-1957

    Like the Chimera of Greek legend--a triple monster, lion in front, goat in the middle, and snake behind--this Chimera is a hard-to-define hybrid in three parts.1 The central section forms a transition from the rigorous geometry of the lower part to the figurative associations of the upper part. "There are many Chimeras today… enemies of poetry," wrote Apollinaire in 1911;2 and in Paris in 1913 the Russian film The Eyes of Chimera caused a stir with its tale of a young male artist seduced and destroyed by a femme fatale who has the same "Chimera eyes" as Brancusi's sculpture. The composer Erik Satie reflected on Le Chimère désolée: a reminder that Brancusi's Chimera belongs to the context of such Dada figurations as Max Ernst's Young Chimera of 1920.

    In one studio photograph, Chimera appears atop a comparatively tall base structure; in another, Brancusi deliberately uses its shadow in order to intensify its expression. A photograph of the early 1920s shows it on a large, millstone-shaped base. Different though they are, all of the bases that Brancusi used for this work share an element of height, and he always photographed it from a low viewpoint. This viewpoint is essential. When Brancusi saw photographs of the exhibition Contemporary French Art at the Sculptors' Gallery in New York, he was appalled by the presentation of his works, notably because Chimera "was on the floor instead of being high in the air" (Henri-Pierre Roché to John Quinn, May 14, 1922, Quinn Collection, NYPL). This sculpture must therefore not be presented at eye-level; its place is "high in the air."

    The triple monster glares menacingly down as you approach. In one of his early temple designs, Brancusi set it up as a forbidding, apotropaic figure, a modern equivalent of the weird gargoyles of medieval churches. Like its huge eyes, the towering bases on which Chimera always stands derive from its theme. Like Brancusi's other wood sculptures, Chimera is defined by an interplay between abstract form and concrete connotation. Friedrich Teja Bach, from Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (1995), p. 156.

    NOTES
    1. A drawing of 1918-20 implies that Brancusi initially regarded Chimera as consisting of the two upper parts only. His photographs, however, suggest that he later came to include the present base within his definition of the work. A photograph (MNAM, Ph 632) shows the two upper parts on a different base.
    As to the dating: one photograph of the work is dated 1915 in the artist's hand; Giedion-Welcker, Carola. Constantin Brancusi. Translated by Maria Jolas and Anne Leroy. New York: George Braziller, 1959, figs. 76-77, dates the work 1915-18. A letter from Brancusi to John Quinn postmarked December 27, 1917, lists under "subjects and prices…No. 2) wood, Chimera 3,000 francs" (Quinn Collection, NYPL). Possibly, however, Chimera (like two other sculptures mentioned in the same list) was still unfinished at that time. In the catalogue of the 1926 Brummer Gallery exhibition, it appears as no. 9, with the caption "Chimera (old oak) 1918."
    2. Guillaume Apollinaire, Oeuvres poétiques, ed. Marcel Adéma and Michel Décaudin (Paris: Gallimard, 1956), p. 34.

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