Constantin Brancusi

Fish

Paris 1930
Not on view
Medium
Blue-gray marble 21 x 71 x 5 1/2" (53.3 x 180.3 x 14 cm), on three-part pedestal of one marble 5 1/8" (13 cm) high, and two limestone cylinders 13" (33 cm) high and 11" (27.9 cm) high x 32 1/8" (81.5 cm) diameter at widest point
Credit
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest
Object number
695.1949.a-d
Copyright
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Less an image of a fish than an embodiment of the idea of one, Fish conjures the animal's liquid course by simplifying details like fin and scale, tail and head, into smooth streamline. ("Simplicity," Brancusi believed, "is not an end in art, but we usually arrive at simplicity as we approach the true sense of things.") The material too contributes: a blue-gray marble veined with flecks of flowing white, its surface intimates both movement through water and moving water itself.

Brancusi was fascinated by animals, and believed in the primacy of animal consciousness. In reducing animals to elemental shapes, he felt he was approaching the essence of nature. Also, like a number of European artists of his period, he was excited by art from outside the classical tradition so influential in Western aesthetics. The art of Africa, Native America, and the Pacific, and also the art of prehistory (including Cycladic sculpture, a particular influence on Brancusi), took imaginative liberties with human and animal bodies, alternately exaggerating, attenuating, and eliminating their features. These examples liberated Brancusi and others in their treatment of form. By the time he made Fish, in fact, Brancusi seems almost to have left form behind altogether, for something more incorporeal: what he described as the fish's "speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water . . . the flash of its spirit."

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 166

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource