1. Early years, to c 1907
Source: Oxford University Press
The fifth of seven children of a family of peasants, he left his tiny village c. 1887 for Slatina, after which he made his way to Craiova, the provincial capital of Oltenia. There he became a student at the School of Arts and Crafts in 1894. Mechanical technology, industrial design, mathematics and physics figured prominently on his syllabus with some theoretical studies. He did not, therefore, receive a traditional academic training in sculpture; in fact he began studying at the newly founded Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest, but even there instruction was still at an experimental stage, particularly in sculpture.
Brancusi is thought to have been prolific in his student years in Craiova. Various objects subsequently discovered on the premises of his old school have been attributed to him, some of them perhaps as collaborations with other fellow students, including a walnut casket (Craiova, Maria C. S. Nicolǎescu-Plopşor priv. col., see Brezianu, 1976, p. 203), two elaborately carved limewood frames (Craiova, Mus. Sch. A. & Crafts), a loom (see Brezianu, 1976, p. 199) and a rather peculiar oak corner chair (see Brezianu, 1976, p. 204). His first documented sculpture also dates from this period: a clay bust, based on a photograph, of Gheorghe Chitu (exh. 1898; lost; see Brezianu, 1976, p. 206), a hero of the Revolution of 1848 and founder of the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova. Brancusi studied sculpture from 1898 to 1902 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest. Among the few surviving sculptures of this period are a portrait of one of his friends from Craiova, Ion Georgescu-Gorjan (1902; Bucharest, Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan priv. col., see Brezianu, 1976, p. 64), and a plaster bust of the Roman Emperor Vitellius (1898; Craiova, Mus. A.).
In 1903 Brancusi left Romania for Paris, according to his own romanticized account (Jianou, p. 30) taking nearly two years to arrive there by foot but reaching the city in the summer of 1904. Supporting himself by washing dishes in a restaurant, from April 1905 to 1907 he studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts under Antonin Mercié. Only one sculpture from 1905 survives, Pride (Craiova, Mus. A.), the head of a young girl cast in bronze from plaster. This was one of three works exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1906. It was succeeded by representations of children, such as Head of Child (exh. 1907, Paris, Salon), in which he revealed his incipient interest in the partial figure, and Torment (versions in plaster and bronze; all priv. cols, see Brezianu, 1976, pp. 88, 90, 92–3), for which he used the same boy as a model, and in which the influence of Medardo Rosso and especially of Auguste Rodin is apparent. A marble version of Torment, known only from a photograph (see Geist, 1975, p. 174), may have been Brancusi’s earliest attempt at direct carving. Two other projects were executed by Brancusi in 1906: a portrait of the painter Nicolae Darascu (Bucharest, Mus. A.), in which he continued to experiment with the partial figure by eliminating the right arm almost at shoulder level, and a beautiful marble head entitled Sleep (see Brezianu, 1976, p. 95).
In 1907 Brancusi received a commission from a rich Romanian widow for a funerary monument in memory of her recently deceased husband. The contract stipulated a stone pedestal and two sculptures in bronze: an allegorical figure of a weeping woman and a portrait bust to be executed after a photograph. Initially Brancusi intended to comply with this plan, but he destroyed his first model as unimaginative and instead made the bold decision to represent a nude figure kneeling in prayer. The Prayer and the portrait of Petre Stǎnescu (Buzǎu, Dumbrava Cemetery) bring to a close Brancusi’s formative years.
From Grove Art Online