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Golden Bird

This photograph shows Brancusi in his art studio, with a bird sculpture in the background.
Edward Steichen, Brancusi in His Studio, Paris, 1927, gelatin silver print, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Brancusi made his first bird sculptures of marble. How does this sculpture compare with Golden Bird?
Constantin Brancusi, Maiastra, 1912, white marble, marble base, © Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950


key idea
Brancusi explored the subject of a bird in flight in a series of artworks.

Brancusi’s inspiration for this sculpture was a Romanian legend about a dazzling gold-feathered bird. This bird, called the Maiastra, had magical powers. Its beautiful song was said to restore sight to the blind and make old people youthful again. Brancusi titled many of his bird sculptures Maiastra.

Golden Bird wasn’t Brancusi’s first bird-in-flight sculpture, nor was it his last. In fact, Brancusi returned to this subject nearly thirty times over the course of forty years. His first bird sculpture, made around 1910, was of marble. After 1919, he began creating birds in bronze.

Brancusi’s switch to bronze for his sculptures led to quite a controversy. In the late 1920s he tried to ship a Bird in Space sculpture to a client in the United States. Under U.S. law, art objects entering the country were not supposed to be taxed. But a U.S. customs official didn’t consider the abstract sculpture to be art. He classified it instead as raw metal and imposed a tax. When Brancusi challenged the tax in court, the judge found that even though the sculpture might not look like a bird, it was still art. That ruling was considered a great victory for modern art.