From the Collection of Natalia Dumitresco & Alexandre Istrati
Constantin Brancusi Works
11 October 2010
Artcurial | Briest - Poulain - F. Tajan are delighted to announce the sale of the Collection of Natalia Dumitresco & Alexandre Istrati, universal legatees of Constantin Brancusi. The auction will take place on 30 November 2010 under the gavel of Francis Briest.
This market-fresh ensemble includes six works by Brancusi, and a score of objects made by him, along with personal souvenirs.
Natalia Dumitresco, Alexandre Istrati et brancusi: a filial relationship
Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati were both born in Romania in 1915, and graduated from the Fine Art Academy in Bucharest, where they met, before marrying in 1939. In 1947, thanks to a French government scholarship, their dream of coming to study art in Paris came true.
They were in thrall to the glorious, legendary figure of Constantin Brancusi who, like them, had arrived in Paris from Romania, albeit forty years earlier. But how could they get to meet him, given that he lived like a hermit in his studio? It was their sculptor friend George Theodorescu, Brancusi’s neighbour, who acted as go-between.
Brancusi agreed they could come to visit on Sunday 19 October 1947. ‘It was a landmark date for us’ 1 declared the young couple. When they saw his studio, they felt they were discovering ‘a sort of sanctuary, where lightness and serenity held sway.’ 2 When he quizzed them about their lives, work and plans, they told him how keen they were to stay in Paris to pursue their careers in art. When they were leaving, Brancusi told them that next time they came, they should use the door of the other studio, where he lived.
From then on they belonged to Brancusi’s inner circle.
Brancusi felt he had accomplished his life’s work, and had effectively withdrawn from the world. He was seventy, and rarely saw Giacometti, Laurens, Richier, Arp, Braque or Picasso, even though they all lived in Paris. He only went out to do the shopping.
The arrival of Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati was to cheer up the last ten years of his life.
When another studio in Impasse Ronsin, opposite Brancusi’s, became free, the young artists moved in to work, but their resources were dwindling and Brancusi could see how they were struggling. Their Sunday visits became daily visits. One day in 1948 (according to the Istratis’ memoirs), Brancusi said to them simply: ‘Stay with me.’
Those few words, wrote the Istriatis, were all it took to set their lives on a new path.
Their new studio was a pig-sty, but Brancusi helped them, showering them with goodwill and benevolence. He repaired the front door, taught them how to change window-panes, built a cupboard under stairs for them to sleep in, and cleverly increased the heat given off by the old stove.
Ten times a day he came to cajole and encourage them, bringing tools and advice.
With in a few months Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati became both Brancusi’s confidants and work companions.
Brancusi set his young compatriots to work moulding plasters and cleaning bronzes. They helped make the bases for the Grand Poisson, acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1949. The following year was largely devoted to finishing the Grand Coq. ‘By day, we were working with the sculptor; in the evening we went back to our painting, stimulated by the creative atmosphere.’ 3
That year Brancusi gave Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati his sculpture The Kiss (Column) from 1935.
Brancusi sent ‘his children’, as he called them, to the exhibitions and vernissages he could no longer attend, awaiting their return, often late at night, to hear their impressions. He recommended things to read and encouraged them to study Greek and Egyptian statuary at the Louvre.
Brancusi remained close to them until he died, showering them with good advice. In Brancusi (published in 1986 by Flammarion), Pontus Hulten, Natalia Dumitresco & Alexandre Istrati presented a detailed biography of the artist and first catalogue raisonné of his work.
Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati were representatives of the post-war school of lyrical abstraction, and their works are regularly offered for sale by Artcurial | Briest - Poulain - F. Tajan.
1 Brancusi-Pontus Hulten, Natalia Dumitresco - Alexandre Istrati , Flammarion 1986, p 239
2 et 3 idem, p242
The Kiss (Column), 1935
The Natalia Dumitresco & Alexandre Istrati Collection is dominated by a work which emblematicizes Brancusi’s artistic research: his four-part stone and plaster sculpture The Kiss (Column) from 1935 (estimate €800,000-1,200,000).
Brancusi worked on The Gate of the Kiss from 1935 to 1938. He engraved on a lintel, like a bas-relief, the motif of The Kiss represented en pied in a very stylized design. The repeated motif formed a rhythmical frieze, which he gave to the Istratis (est. €60,000-80,000).
The Kiss embodies the founding principles of Brancusi’s work: his taste for the primitive; gift for symbolism; quest for simplicity and symmetry; and love of matter and verticality.
The theme of the kiss would inspire his work and research for nearly four decades (1907-45). Brancusi sculpted The Kiss seven times; took up the theme architecturally, for The Columns of the Kiss, The Kiss (Column) and The Gate of the Kiss (1935-37); and engraved it on his Borne Frontière (1945).
The first Kiss dates from 1907, the same year as Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, Braque’s Grand Nu, Derain’s Baigneuses and Matisse’s Nu Bleu. A Cézanne retrospective was held that year at the Salon d’Automne; Rodin’s Penseur had been installed in front of the Pantheon in Paris the year before.
The Kiss marked a break for Brancusi with classical sculpture, as he opted to carve directly from the stone, without any preparatory model. It was a radically different approach from that of Rodin, with his Romantic representations of the human body.
Later, Brancusi would say that the direct carving of his first Kiss was his ‘Road to Damascus’ when, for the first time, he felt he was ‘expressing the essential.’
In striving to appropriate the ‘cosmic essence’ of matter, Brancusi would never cease to pursue and refine his research.
Brancusi gave The Kiss (Column) to Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati in 1950.
In their book on Brancusi, they described the works as ‘a four-level column, highly representative of how he assembled elements in his studio. No doubt these had been made separately, at different times, then assembled gradually as they accumulated.’
The top part of the column, made of plaster, is engraved with the motif of The Gate of the Kiss. The stylized design of the embracing couple is given an architectural setting. The three other elements and superimposed bases in stone create a soaring effect. As Pontus Hulten wrote, the work is destined to ‘meet the sky.’ 1
1 Pontus Hulten, Natalia Dumitresco et Alexandre Istrati, « Brancusi ». Flammarion, 1986. p 25
Natalia Dumitresco & Alexandre Istrati Collection: Constantin Brancusi Works & Memorabilia
The extraordinary diversity of the objects in the collection reveal a less familiar aspect of Brancusi’s art. All his life, he made his surroundings from the furniture, utensils, tools and objects he needed, along with his sculptures.
This search for total harmony between his art and where he lived was an integral part of his work.
He trained as a carver in stone, wood and metal at the Arts & Crafts School in Craiova. His mastery of materials enabled him to surround himself with objects almost exclusively of his own making. The same applied when he fitted out the studio of Natalia Dumitresco and Alexandre Istrati.
In 1947 Brancusi welcomed the Istrati couple to Impasse Ronsin, where he lived and worked, and helped them set up there, behaving like a father with his children. He restored the studio, and made the furniture and objects needed their everyday life. These included two lamps with carved, cross-shaped stone bases, circa 1930 (est. €120,000-180,000); a plaster vase, circa 1940 (est. €20,000-30,000); and a desk for reading in bed, made in 1954 (est. €20,000-30,000).
These objects may be simple in design, but they were made with uncommon skill and ingenuity.
For the flat-warming party (known in French as the pendre la crémaillère), Brancusi gave them an iron sculpture, hung it up, and called out: ‘There’s your crémaillère’ (cooking-pot to hang over the fire). ‘I made it when I set up the forge.’
Brancusi also gave the couple The Signal, an atypical metallic construction he had designed.
The Signal (est. €200,000-300,000) and Crémaillère (est. €50,000-70,000) are unique works by Brancusi in wrought iron, dating from 1928/9. They reflect Brancusi’s brief interest in metal sculpture, perhaps influenced by his close friend Julio Gonzales.
The intimate nature of the works to be offered is reflected in various souvenirs of Brancusi’s life: the suitcase symbolizing the journey from Romania to Paris; the pipe of the inveterate smoker; the flute of the music-lover…
- Sale: 1932
- Location: Hôtel Marcel Dassault
- Date: 30 November 2010
- 27 to 29 November, 11am-7pm
- Hôtel Marcel Dassault
7 rond-point des Champs-Élysées
- Violaine de La Brosse-Ferrand
- Phone +33 1 42 99 20 32
- Bruno Jaubert
- Phone +33 1 42 99 20 35
- Armelle Maquin
- Phone +33 1 43 14 05 69
- Cel. +33 6 11 70 44 74