Skip to main content

Main Building

White Negress [I]

1923
Constantin Brancusi, French (born Romania), 1876 - 1957

How to interpret this work and its title? Brancusi liked to juxtapose concepts in his sculptures: masculine and feminine, modern and ancient, artificial and natural. Here he pairs white with negress, a term widely used for Black women in France and its colonial empire during Brancusi’s lifetime. According to a friend, Brancusi was inspired by the sight of a woman he believed to be from Africa during a visit to a colonial exposition in the French city of Marseille.


The resulting sculpture represents the idea of a woman rather than a portrait of a particular individual. In distilling form to just a few elements placed in lively asymmetry, Brancusi deployed a decidedly modern aesthetic. But in emphasizing a high chignon and pronounced lips, he was alluding to European stereotypes for characterizing Africans and people of African descent. White Negress evokes social, cultural, and aesthetic questions that remain urgent today.

...

Object Details

We are always open to learning more about our collections and updating the website. Does this record contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? Contact us here.

Please note that this particular artwork might not be on view when you visit. Don’t worry—we have plenty of exhibitions for you to explore.


Main Building