White Negress [I]

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


Veined marble; marble two-part base

15 x 5 5/8 x 7 1/16 inches (38.1 x 14.3 x 17.9 cm) Base (two elements): 9 3/4 inches (24.8 cm)

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

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

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

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationConstantin Brancusi: 1876-1957

    Brancusi's subject--a "white" negress--functions as a mischievous oxymoron but also exemplifies the sculptor's artistic aspiration toward the harmonious reconciliation of opposites, a fundamental principle of Eastern and Western mystical thought throughout the ages.

    Brancusi's friend Eileen Lane reported that the portrait was inspired by an African woman whom Brancusi saw in Marseilles while the two were traveling in 1922 (Hulten, Pontus, Natalia Dumitresco, and Alexandre Istrati. Brancusi. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987, p. 147), and Brancusi said later that he saw the woman "at a fair."1 A greatly publicized Exposition Coloniale took place in Marseilles in 1922, and it seems likely to have been the site of Brancusi's inspiration.

    Brancusi selected a white marble with intricate veining in gray and orange, especially prominent on the chignon and cylinder. (The material was incorrectly cited as alabaster in the Wildenstein Gallery exhibition of 1926 and frequently thereafter.) Rather than inflect the surface of the ellipsoid to represent facial features, as he did in such figures as the Muse, Brancusi characterized the head by the addition of three distinct features: the lips and the two elements of the coiffure. The striking asymmetry of these elements--lips askew, chignon set aslant on the head--contributes a note of humor that reinforces the comic aspect of Brancusi's title. The sculpture is positioned on a veined marble cylinder, which in turn sits atop a cruciform of white marble, more pure in color than the head. This cruciform shape, in varying sizes and materials, supports every version of the work.

    In 1926, Brancusi made three polished bronze versions of this sculpture, which he duly renamed Blond Negress. Each Blond Negress is perched further forward on its support than White Negress. Recent X-radiography has revealed a second hole in White Negress, now filled, for a supporting rod in the ovoid head, suggesting that White Negress originally may have been positioned further forward as well. Ann Temkin, from Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (1995), p. 196.

    1. Quoted in Flora Merrill, "Brancusi, the Sculptor of the Spirit, Would Build 'Infinite Column' in Park," New York World, October 3, 1926.

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