On View


Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines


Artist: Constantin Brancusi (Romanian, active France, 1876 - 1957)
Date: 1912-1913
Medium: Polished bronze, stone
Other (Bronze): 24 x 7 x 7 in. (61 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm.)
Stone: 11 7/8 x 7 3/4 x 7 3/4 in. (30.2 x 19.7 x 19.7 cm.)
Overall: 35 7/8 × 7 3/4 × 7 3/4 in. (91.1 × 19.7 × 19.7 cm.)
Credit Line: Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles, 1960.22
Accession number: 1960.22
Classification: sculpture
Label TextBrancusi’s bird sculptures represent the combination of Modernist theories of form and material with the artist’s personal interest in history and spirituality. Maiastra, from the artist’s first series of bird works, is both a literal representation of a golden bird from Romanian folklore, and the beginning of his use of shape and material to change the nature of sculpture. Maiastra combines the most basic elements possible to suggest the form of a bird. Reduction to the simplest shapes, colors, and lines is a central tenet of Modernism. One of the other revolutionary developments of Modernist sculpture — that of presenting materials in a straightforward, unadorned manner — also exists here. Brancusi’s technique of polishing bronze to its natural gold color infuses the metal with a transcendent glow that starkly contrasts with the jagged stone base, from which the bird seems to be rising. The interaction between the materials lends the sculpture a sense of upward motion.
Constantin Brancusi worked between 1910 and 1912 in developing "Maiastra" both in polished bronze and in marble. The marble version is now in the Museum of Modern Art. "Maiastra" represents bird in a popular Rumanian fairy tale, the classic story of a lover, seeking his princess, finally guided through the forest by the bird to the place of her imprisonment. The bird theme is probably the most significant in his opus. Beginning with "Maiastra" he worked the theme with that increasing simplicity which for him was not an end in itself, but an approach to the real meaning of things. Brancusi was born in 1876 in a small Transylvanian village in central Rumania. He ran away from home before he was a teenager and after a few years enrolled in the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova and later at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest. He graduated with honors and received various prizes and awards as a student. In 1903 he left Rumania, walking and working his way to Paris where he arrived the following year and continued his studies. For a brief time he was apprenticed to Rodin. He died in Paris in 1957 at the age of eighty-one. Source: Bulletin, January 1961 and November-December 1973.
InscriptionC. Brancusi, Paris 1912 (printed with punches)
Exhibition History"Highlights From Three Collections: The Bohen, Coffin and Cowles Collections," Des Moines Art Center, July 8 - Sept. 11, 1983

"Brancusi + Mondrian," Sidney Janis Gallery, N.Y., Dec. 2 - 31, 1982

"Constantin Brancusi: A Retrospective Exhibition," Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, N. Y., Nov. 20, 1969 - Feb. 15, 1970

"Modern Sculpture in Minnesota," Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Apr. 1 - May 3, 1959

"Tenth Anniversary Exhibition," Sidney Janis Gallery, N.Y., 1958

"Exposition d'Art Roumain a l'occasion du Centenaire de l'Independance Belge," Galerie Giroux, Brussels, July 20 - Aug. 10, 1930, where it was called "The Phoenix"

"Tentoonstelling van Roemeensche Kunst," Gemeente Museum voor moderne Kunst, at the Hague, May 3 - June 9, 1930, where it was called "Phoenix Bird," (circulated to: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, June 14 - July 13, 1930)

"Tinerimea Artistica," Jubilee Exhibition, Bucharest, Oct. - Nov. 1928

"Exposition d'Art Roumain," Congres de la Presse Latine, pavillion de la Maison des Jardins, Bucharest, Sept. 30 - Oct. 1927, where it was titled "L'oiseau Maitre"

First International Exhibition of the "Contimporanul" Hall of Fine Arts Syndicate, Bucharest, Nov. 30 - Dec. 30, 1924

"Brancusi-Serra: Resting in Time and Space", Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Oct 7, 2011 - Apr 15, 2012
Published ReferencesAthena T. Spear, "Brancusi's Birds," REVUE roumaine d'histoire d

T. Vianu, "Prima expozitie internationala 'Contimporanul'," MISCAREA LITERARA, Bucharest, Dec. 6, 1924, ill.

"Contimporanul," Bucharest, 1924, cat. no.105

"Exposition d'Art Roumain," Bucharest, 1927, cat. no.277 (titled "L'oiseau Maitre"), ill.

"Tinerimea Artistica," Bucharest, 1928, cat. no.195

"Exposition d'Art Roumain a l'occasion du Centenaire de l'Independance Belge," Galerie Giroux, Brussels, 1930, cat. no.214 (titled "The Phoenix"), ill.

"Tentoonstelling van Roemeensche Kunst," Gemeente Museum voor moderne Kunst, The Hague, 1930, cat. no.208 (titled "Phoenix Bird")

Tudor Vianu, "Sculptura romaneasca," ARTA SI TEHNICA GRAFICA, Bucharest, June - Sept., 1938, ill.

Marcel Brion, L'ART ABSTRAIT, Paris, Albin Michel, 1956, p.145, ill.

"Tenth Anniversary Exhibition," Sidney Janis Gallery, N. Y., 1958, cat. no.6, ill.


DMAC Bulletin, Jan. 1961, cover ill.

ART QUARTERLY, Vol. XXIV, Spring 1961, ill. p.114

Ion Schintee, "Ciclul' Pasarii, in opera lui Brancusi," reprint from RAMURI, Craiova, 1966, p.6, ill.

Sidney Geist, A STUDY OF THE SCULPTURE, N.Y., 1968, no.71, pp.43-44, 200-201

"Constantin Brancusi: A Retrospective Exhibition," Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1969, cat. no.52, ill.

Athena T. Spear, BRANCUSI'S BIRDS, New York University Press for the College Art Association of America, 1969, no.5, pl.8

DMAC Bulletin, Nov./Dec. 1973, Cover ill.

"La Cronique des Arts,' supplement to the GAZETTE DES BEAU ARTS, no.1261, no.484, 1974, ill. p.149

William Tucker, THE LANGUAGE OF SCULPTURE, Thames & Hudson, London, hardback version, 1974, paperback version, 1977, ill. no.42, p.50

Sidney Geist, BRANCUSI, THE SCULPTURE AND DRAWINGS, Harry N. Abrams, N.Y., 1975, no.82, color ill. p.63

Barbu Brezianu, BRANCUSI IN ROMANIA, revised edition published in 1976 in Bucharest by Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste Romania, no.66, ill. as fig.276, p.239 - the sculpture is reproduced in several places in the book: installation view of 1930 exhibition "Tentoonstelling van Roemeensche Kunst" at the Gemeente Museum voor moderne Kunst in the Hague, repro. p.240, fig.277 and an installation view of the same 1930 exhibition shown at the Stedelijk Musuem, Amsterdam, p.54, fig.82

DMAC Annual Report, July 1, 1978 - June 30, 1979, cover ill. of installation and guided tour

BOLLETTINO D'ART (SUPPLEMENTO) - "Immagine del Museo negli Anni '80" published by the Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali in Rome, 1982. Four works form the DMAC collection and view of south facade of Pei wing reproduced to illustrate th article/talk "Collection (sic) of 20th Century Italian Art in the United States" by James T. Demetrion, pp.67-73 - delivered in 1981, ill. p.69

Peter Selz, ART IN OUR TIMES: A PICTORIAL HISTORY 1890-1980, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1981, ref. p.190, fig.463, p.191

DMAC Annual Report, June 30, 1980 - July 1, 1981, cover ill., installation view with guided tour

Douglas Hyland, "Adelheid Lange Roosevelt: American Cubist Sculptor," ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART JOURNAL, Vol. 21, no. 4, 1981, ref. p.13, ill. p.14

"Brancusi + Mondrian," Sidney Janis Gallery, N. Y., 1982, cat. no.2, ill. pl. no.2

Ronny Cohen, "Kindred Spirits," ART NEWS, Mar. 1983, pp.84 - 87, color installation ill. p.84

Signey Geist, "Brancussi + Modrian: A Sum, A Summa," ARTFORUM, Feb. 1983, ref. pp.69-70, color installation ill. p.68


Radu Varia, BRANCUSI, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., N. Y., 1986, ref. pp.222-231, color ill. p.231

Friedrich Teja Bach, CONSTANTIN BRANCUSI, DuMont Buchverlag, Koln, 1987, b/w ill. p.438

DMAC News, July/Aug. 1994, p.3

AN UNCOMMON VISION: THE DES MOINES ART CENTER, Des Moines Art Center, 1998, ref. p.66, color ill. p.67

"Letters from John Cowles to his Family; 1943-1976:1948", edited by Elizabeth Ballantine, Durango Herald Press, 2004, cover image

"Constantin Brancusi y Richard Serra: Un Manual de Posibilidades" Edited by Oliver Wick, Fondacion DelMuseo Guggenheim Bilbao, 2012, color ill. pg.203,

Editionunique cast
entirely unexpected