The story of Brâncusi's mysterious sculpture, found in Paris

Researcher in Art History, specializing in the work of the sculptor, Doina Lemny revealed, exclusively for “Adevărul”, the mystery of the bust entitled “Portrait of a Restaurant Patron”, one of the works from the beginning of Brâncuși's career.

The bust was created by Brâncusi in the period 1905-1906, in Paris

A work signed by the famous sculptor Constantin Brâncusi, which was long thought to be either lost or destroyed, met the Romanian public for the first time in an extraordinary exhibition organized by Artmark Galleries. Why does the work have a different title now, after its discovery, and how was it forgotten for so many years? Here are questions to which they are still trying to find answers.

The event coincides with the 148th anniversary of the sculptor's birth, February 19 being declared Brancusi Day. The first meeting with the public of this work, titled “Portrait of a restaurant patron” (1905-1906), was organized within an exhibition suggestively titled “Brâncuși Exclusiv”, which can still be visited until February 25, at free, every day from Monday to Sunday, between 10.00 and 20.00.

Doina Lemny and Horia-Roman Patapievici talked about the bust

Doina Lemny and Horia-Roman Patapievici talked about the bust

The unveiling of the work was made at the inauguration of the event, which took place on Saturday, at the Cesianu-Racoviță Palace in the Capital, and gathered dozens of people eager to be among the first to have the opportunity to see the work. They spoke on this occasion and told the story of the mysterious bust Doina Lemny, PhD in Art History and museographer-researcher, and Horia-Roman Patapievici, writer and private researcher in the history of ideas.

“It was thought to be a destroyed work”

“This work, and its appearance, is very important, precisely because it helps us hope that other works from those years will come to light, which document this period of Brâncuși's work, the years 1905-1906, when he was at first in Paris, and was still under the influence of the school made in the country, and adapted to the new school there, in the workshop of Antonin Mercié. So the surprise appearance of this work makes us hope that this very little-known chapter is completed. It was thought that it was a destroyed work, because it was Brâncuși's habit to do this with works that he did not like”declared, for “Adevărul”, Doina Lemny.

“The event of the presence in the country of a work by Brâncusi is in itself an important one because it is a Brâncusi. Especially since it is about a work that had been lost, which is photographically documented, not as bronze, but as patinated plaster, and the work was thought to have disappeared. As a bronze, we know that it existed, because in 1906 – the plaster was probably created in 1905 – it was present at a salon, at which Rodin noticed Brâncusi. But the work disappeared and surfaced last summer at an auction in France, where it was won by a compatriot. Therefore, the work arrived in Romania for the first time in the ownership of a Romanian. It is a great moment of emotion for Romanian society and shows how beautiful is the natural circuit of art in society, from the moment the artist created it, how it spreads through different owners, through exhibitions, and appears, as in this case, not necessarily in a museum”says Horia-Roman Patapievici, president of Artmark Galleries.

“This bust appears alongside other similar works in the catalog raisonné made by Sidney Geist – the one who did important research on Brâncusi. Either “missing” or “unknown location” is written in their right. Because they were no longer found. Geist didn't see them either, but he put them in the catalog because he had the photos from the sculptor's studio. The images are those kept by Brâncuși himself and they still exist today, in the collection of the greatest photography collector, David Grob. We also had these images in the exhibition in Timișoara. But the work appears for the first time in Romania in this extraordinary exhibition at Artmark. Like this time, because this work was purchased last year in Paris by a Romanian, the works that Brâncusi made during that period were mostly bought by Romanians”declared the specialist in Brâncusi's work.

Why did the sculpture have several names?

Doina Lemny also explained the controversial name of the work made by Brâncusi during the time when he worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Paris. Now the bust is labeled “Portrait of a Restaurant Patron (Portrait of Achille Baldé)”, but when it was first exhibited it had another name, “Portrait of MG”. This is believed to be the correct title, and the initials probably come from the name of the restaurant's patron, “Monsieur le Gerard”. That's because Achille Baldé is the name of another colleague, a waiter. And as there is still a bust from that period, called “Portrait of a Waiter”, it is possible that this is the one depicting Achille Baldé.

Also, the specialist in Brâncusi's work stated that no one can say with certainty if there are no other bronzes after the same work. “The plaster from which this bronze was cast is not known if it still exists and if it is still in good condition, in case it was preserved. But I don't think that at that time more bronzes were made from such casts, especially since then the bronze casting method damaged the cast”said Doina Lemny. “It would be interesting to find the other bust, which is the waiter, and see why they were mixed up. The photo with this restaurant patron is taken from the profile, so we now have the advantage of seeing the work from the front as well, and in its entirety.”added the expert.