Three Penguins

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


White marble

22 1/4 x 20 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches (56.5 x 52.7 x 34.3 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

    The theme of penguins was suggested to Brancusi by (still or moving) images shown by the explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot to accompany a lecture he gave in Paris on December 12, 1910, about his expedition to the Antarctic onboard the Pourquoi-Pas?. The snow, the whiteness, and the penguins' slow way of walking and clustering together excited Brancusi greatly and inspired his sculptures Three Penguins and Two Penguins (The Art Institute of Chicago).1

    Only one of the two groups, Two Penguins, was later taken up and carried through to conclusion.2 There is considerable evidence that, between these two works, "the number of birds [was] reduced for purely formal reasons (Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957: A Retrospective Exhibition, September 23- November 15, 1969; New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago. Catalogue by Sidney Geist). The forms in Two Penguins have become tauter and flatter and more clearly distinguished from the untouched natural breaks; the texture of the edges (especially on the back) is now more sharply articulated, more austere, and in most places almost geometric. The spatial configuration of the group has become flatter, and the mutual dependence and creaturely closeness of the penguins has been refined in a signlike image. Friedrich Teja Bach, from Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (1995), pp. 114-15.

    1. Pascu and Irène Atanasiu, in conversation with the author, January 27, 1979; see Bach, Friedrich Teja. Constantin Brancusi: Metamorphosen plastischer Form. Cologne: Dumon, 1987, p. 375, n. 517.
    2. The dating of Three Penguins and Two Penguins is still problematic. The sources of information, some of them mutually contradictory, are as follows: the date of the inspiration (lecture given in December 1910); a photograph of Three Penguins, dated 1912 by Brancusi; Roché's reference to "the two, then the three penguins" (Roché, Henri-Pierre. "Souvenirs sur Brancusi." L'Oeil {Paris}, vol. 29 {May 1957}, p. 16); the date of 1914, attached to Three Penguins in the catalogue of the 1926 Brummer Gallery exhibition; the fact that in 1955, Roché dated Two Penguins 1914 (Geist, Sidney. Brancusi: The Sculpture and Drawings. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975, p. 180, no. 95). On stylistic evidence, Three Penguins is the earlier work. It was probably begun in the early months of 1911; Brancusi's handwritten date of 1912 therefore denotes the year of its completion. Roché's reference to "the two, then the three" is probably incorrect. If Two Penguins was completed in 1914, the question remains whether it was begun simultaneously with Three Penguins and completed later, or whether it was actually begun later.

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