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


Veined marble; two-part mirror and oak base

5 x 16 7/8 x 1 1/16 inches (12.7 x 42.8 x 2.7 cm) Base (two elements): 24 1/8 inches (61.3 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

    Unlike other motifs, the Fish occupied Brancusi's interest for less than a decade. The series began with this sculpture, continued with five casts in bronze, and ended in 1930 with a much larger version in blue-gray marble (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). While the horizontal orientation of Fish is opposite that of the bird sculptures, the two motifs share a sense of barely contained motion and a would-be defiance of gravity.

    Fish, because it cannot remain upright without support, exemplifies the symbiosis between base and sculpture that characterizes so much of Brancusi's work. The mirror-and-wood form in this version provides an environment outside of which the sculpted shape on top cannot function. Removed from its base, this sculpture cannot stand, but must be lain on its side, where it appears abstract and lifeless.

    When assembled, however, the mirror below the Fish surrounds and supports it and allows it to float weightlessly. The marble's veining is set into rippling motion as the viewer walks around the sculpture, and at the correct angle the creature suddenly vanishes into a sliver of reflected light. Because the Fish begins to move only as the viewer does, change, not fixity, becomes the determinant of the sculpture's identity.

    In 1927, less than three months after Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché completed their purchase of John Quinn's collection of Brancusi sculptures, Katherine Dreier singled out this Fish along with Yellow Bird to add to her collection (see Dreier to Duchamp, January 10, 1927, Dreier Collection, YCAL). Fish was sold in 1942 to Peggy Guggenheim, who owned the work briefly before it entered the collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg in 1948. Ann Temkin, from Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (1995), p. 188.

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