Christie’s will offer Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture La muse endormie as a highlight of its May 15 Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York (estimate: $25-35 million). La muse endormie counts among the greatest achievements in sculptural history. Its drastic purification of form and emotional resonance mark the dawn of a new sculptural language.
First conceived in marble in 1909-1910, La muse endormie was cast by Brancusi in six bronze versions by 1913. Four bronzes today are housed in museums—The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, and two examples in the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris—while two, including the present work, remain in private collections. La muse endormie to be offered at Christie’s in May was acquired by the distinguished French collector Jacques UImann in the 1950s and has remained in his family to this day.
La muse endormie is the first in Brancusi’s series of ovoid sculptures, marking the inception of the artist’s mature work and his advance towards pure abstraction. The form of a sleeping woman’s head has been distilled into an almost perfect oval, the purity of outline marked only by subtle allusions to the physical features of the model.
Brancusi was in his early thirties when he conceived this breakthrough sculpture. He had arrived in Paris from his native Romania in 1904 at the age of twenty-eight. From his earliest years in Paris, Brancusi had been fascinated by the theme of sleep. Between 1906 and 1908, he sculpted several heads of sleeping women and children, all of which retain the descriptive naturalism that he had learned from his work in Auguste Rodin’s studio.