DESTINATION: ROMANIA/ Gorj – Constantin Brancusi’s masterpiece in Targu Jiu – the Avenue of Heroes ensemble
One of the greatest masterpieces of sculptor Constantin Brancusi, with which he blessed the Targu-Jiu city, is the Avenue of Heroes monumental ensemble, an homage paid to the heroes in the Gorj County, who gave their lives for their country during the World War One.
Photo credit: (c) Irina POENARU / AGERPRES PHOTO
The father of modern sculpture, as he is considered worldwide, Constantin Brancusi gifted the Targu-Jiu municipality, a few decades ago, when he decided to place here three of his works, with a very rare cultural destiny among the Romanian cities, and not only, succeeding thus in propelling it to the list of the localities with important tourism objectives, which is also proven by the large number of tourists interested in admiring and knowing the work of the famous sculptor.
Constantin Brancusi was born on February 19, 1876, in the Hobita village, near Perstisani and also not so far from the Tismana Monastery, a place which he used to visit very often together with his mother to attend the religious service.
As shown in Zenovie Carlugea’s documentary about the famous sculptor, Brancusi spent his childhood years surrounded by his father and the other fellow villagers who were used to making the objects that they needed in the household with their own hands. People made furniture, chairs and carved decorative elements into the wood and even houses, house pillars, which might be the source of inspiration for his famous work the Endless Column. His childhood was marked by a very close and beautiful relation he had with his mother, Maria, who was also the single one able to control him after the death of his father. After he graduated only three years of formal education, he ran away from home and went to Slatina, where he worked as a shop boy and later, in 1889 more precisely, he moved to Craiova, where he remained for several years, working as a waiter in various restaurants. One day, while he was working in a small public house near the Madonna Dudu Church, he took his clients completely by surprise when he showed up with a violin made by his own hands. The musicians working in the pub tried it to see how it sounded and, to the astonishment of all, the violin started to make harmonious sounds. The regulars of the pub, among whom a vestryman working at the church, sent him to the School of Arts and Crafts.
Brancusi was a hardworking student, and he finished the five years in just four. Already showing great skills as a woodcarver, he made painting frames and furniture. In 1898, he presented his first sculpture — the bust of Gheorghe Chitu — and two painting frames that can still be seen today at the first exhibition of the School of Arts and Crafts in the Dolj County, organised in the Bibescu Park in Craiova. In the same year he enrolled in the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, where he learnt from the best craftsmen of the beginning of the century in Romania, which gained him a lot of courage. He received mentions for his first works and he even got a medal, receiving many encouragements during the school year from his teacher Dimitrie Gerota, with whom he studied anatomy. He made a beautiful sculpture for which he received a prize — Ecorseul (ecorche — statue of a man with skin removed to reveal the muscles underneath), together with Gerota, PhD. In September 1902 he graduated from the School of Fine Arts. He travelled to Munich, but he didn’t feel good here and in 1904 he moved to Paris. A year later he was accepted at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Beginning with 1907, the great Romanian artist chose the nonfigurative art instead, becoming thus a familiar figure among the avant-garde artists in Paris.
It was his work the Kiss (1907) that finally individualized him from the other artists. The work came out as a huge surprise, since the technique was very innovative compared with Rodin’s art (Rodin was Brancusi’s former teacher). Through this work Brancusi managed to detach himself from the pattern of funerary monuments and such works that any of the amateur artists could make in fact at that time. His love affairs with Margit Pogany proved to be of great inspiration to him. The two had an exhibition together at the French Official Salon, and he made her, without her knowing, a portrait. Later he made a series of four variants to Mademoiselle Pogany. He gave one to her, he exhibited another one for the first time in 1913 at the Armony Show, from where an American citizen bought it immediately with 300 dollars, marking thus his entry to the art market in the United States and he brought another one to Bucharest, where he found no buyer, so that he gave it to the Storck family.
Photo credit: (c) Lucian TUDOSE / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
In 1926 he was involved in an unprecedented court battle with the US customs, when his work the Bird was subjected to customs duties. The law said that the works of art were exempted from paying the tax, but the customs officials refused to believe that the tall, thin piece of polished bronze was art and so imposed the tariff for manufactured metal objects. In the end, under pressure from the press and artists, the customs agreed that The Bird was a true work of art. Brancusi was 33 of age at the time, having his first personal exhibition in New York.
The important themes that captured his attention over the many decades of his career were — the Kiss, the Sleeping Muse, Mademoiselle Pogany, the Bird in Space, the Endless Column, the Danaide and the Cock.
In 1935, Arethia Tatarescu, the President of the National League of Women from Gorj, asked him to build a monument in Targu-Jiu in the memory of the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country. It was something that he had been wanting to do for many years, as he confessed in a later to his former student, Milita Petrascu, who was in fact the very one who recommended him to Mrs. Tatarescu — ‘I cannot tell you how happy I am to make something at home.’ The artist didn’t accept any money for his work.
According to Sorin Lory Buliga, the representative of the Brancusi Cultural Centre, it seems that the initial name Brancusi gave to his ensemble was the Avenue Heroes’ Souls. The monumental ensemble the Avenue of Heroes is the modern name of the triptic made by the sculptor over 1937-1938. The ensemble was meant to praise the memory of the heroes from the Gorj County, who sacrificed themselves during the war, as the last of a series of works of art devoted to the memory of the heroes from Targu Jiu.
Professor Zenovie Carlugea also mentioned in his documentary that the years 1936, 1937 and 1938 were ones of great effervescence in Targu Jiu. In May 1936, the city was ranked as a tourist attraction, so that to be able to draw funds from the ministries for building the monuments. In 1937, Gheorghe Tatarescu obtained 5 million lei from the Ministry of Public Works for building the Avenue of Heroes, following a straight line, from the Jiu River floodplain, through the Public Garden, to a haymarket at the edge of the town.
They soon began to make the modules for the Column in the central workshop of Petrosani (Atelierele Centrale Petrosani), assembled by Brancusi’s friend engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan. The travertine blocks brought from Banpotoc, Deva, were cut and put together under the direct guidance of Brancusi, who placed the Gate of the Kiss within the Public Garden, while the League of Women from Gorj County made available 750,000 lei for expropriations along the Avenue of Heroes and also for the construction of the St Apostles Church. In the same year’s autumn, under the coordination of engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan, they laid the foundation for the Column, mounted the central pillar and then put together the elements: Brancusi attended the mounting of the first elements of the column.
Photo credit: (c) Mihai POZIUMSCHI / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
Next year, he covered the Endless Column in metal; he sculpted and finished the Gate of the Kiss and the two banks which he placed on each side of the Gate. He also mounted the Table of Silence from two elements he previously ordered, the twelve round chairs around the table and the thirty square chairs along the alley between the Gate and the Table, specified Professor Zenovie Carlugea.
Sorin Buliga also mentioned that the sculptures in the Public Garden were made from travertine brought from Banpotoc, while the Column was made from 16 rhomboidal brass-clad, cast-iron modules, measuring 29.33 metres in height. Each module measures 1.80 metres in its height. The Gate of the Kiss measures 2.15 metres in its diameter and 0.88 metres in its height. The distance between The Table and The Gate is of 121 metres and that between The Gate and The Column is of 1,154 metres.
Photo credit: (c) Zeno TUFEGA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
‘As regards the signification of the enigmatic elements of the Brancusian works, we know that they were the result of long and very profound meditations over the modality of reflecting (often symbolical) of the sacred in art. Although most of them have as deep source of inspiration the Romanian folklore art, they maintain at the same time a universal value, attracting artists, philosophers, scientists or simple admirers from all corners of our world,’ Sorin Buliga also said.
In the years that followed the completion of the monumental ensemble, Constatin Brancusi created just a few works, motivating that his work was already completed. Beginning with 1946, his health began to deteriorate; he retired in the loneliness of his workshop, among the sculptors that he liked to watch, as they remembered him about his life. His last exhibition while he was still alive was organised in New York, in 1955. Very ill, he refused to go to the hospital: ‘Well, I just prefer to wait for the Good God in my workshop.’ He died on March 16, 1957.
The manager of the ‘Constantin Brancusi’ Municipal Culture Centre, Doru Strambulescu, appreciated that the monumental ensemble had a sacred signification, all its elements representing a sacred cycle. ‘First of all, the monumental triptic ensemble the Avenue of Heroes has a sacred signification. It was made in the memory of the heroes from Gorj, who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield neat the Jiu River Bridge in the World War One, as an homage paid to these heroes. Of course, the symbolism of the ensemble as a whole is a vast one, if we consider all the studies that were made over the time related to it. We are talking about thousands of books, interpretations, but in its essence the Brancusian ensemble has a sacred signification. If we were to look into the water of the Jiu River, if we watch the Table of Silence, the Alley of the Chairs, the Gate of the Kiss, the St Apostles Church and the Endless Column, they all represent a sacred cycle,’ said Doru Strambulescu.
Photo credit: (c) Irina POENARU / AGERPRES PHOTO
He also said that in 1950 there was an attempt to dismount the Endless Column and use the material for other purposes, but the project failed. ‘In the 1950s the communist authorities were thinking to dismantle the Column and to use the material for user purposes. However, the project failed,’ Strambulescu said.
The Gorj county and local authorities wish that all the works related to Constantin Brancusi’s activity in the County could enjoy a better promotion. Te manager of the Municipal Culture Centre also said that, besides the idea of creating a museum to bear the name of the famous sculptor, there exist another plan to create a national institute and a big library to be dedicated to the sculptor’s memory. ‘So far, we have been discussing the plans related to the creation of the Constantin Brancusi museum. We want very much that all that we have in our country that is related to Constantin Brancusi to gain more visibility. Both at national and international level. Besides the museum we are thinking of creating a national institute and a big library where to bring documents about the great artist. I have nourished big hopes that the City Hall as well as the Ministry of Culture and the other institutes, such as the Romanian Academy, the Art Institute, will help us to think of a larger project. Besides the fact that Brancusi is a great personality, we need cultural marketing, we need to learn how to sell this image to the world,’ said Doru Strambulescu.
Photo credit: (c) Irina POENARU / AGERPRES ARCHIVE
About the memorial house of the sculptor in Hobita, the manager of the Culture Centre said that, unfortunately, it was left to ruin by the local and county authorities, from unknown reasons. Another construction close to the true memorial houses was presented to tourists as being the memorial house and the authorities left it like this. ‘The memorial house in Hobita is representative for the style of the peasants’ houses that were built at that time in the areas. The one that was left to ruin is the ruin and, unfortunately, time left its mark on what was left from the house [….] However, we still hope that we will be able to do something for the true house. Either we will try to rebuild it or just to stop the deterioration process and save what it’s left of it. I believe that the Romanian state, through its authorized bodies, should take more care of everything that is related to the life and work of the great sculptor. The Romanian state has a duty to honour the genius of Brancusi and all that he left to us as inheritance,’ Strambulescu also said.
In 2007, once Romania joined the European Union, the Avenue of Heroes monumental ensemble was included in the UNESCO’s European heritage. Subsequently, the relevant authorities have initiated the procedures to include the masterpieces on the list of the monuments that belong to the world heritage, following this to actually happen in 2025.
‘We already started the procedure to include the ensemble on the UNESCO list and we hope that in 2015 this will finally happen. The files are already following its course, we just received the approval after they passed the verification stage, but we don’t know exactly when the next stage will be. I don’t believe that we will encounter any problems, since the year 2015 is already announced as one when UNESCO will add new monuments to its list,’ Doru Strambulescu said.
The French say ‘Noblesse oblige’ and Romanians should learn to say ‘Brancusi oblige!’ And I don’t mean an effort of perception or interpretation of the sculptor’s work, but the greatness of it, in its entirety. Constantin Brancusi returned the Romanian spirituality to the universal one and left us a priceless inheritance: he made us citizens of this world. We own him not because he is Romania or French, but because, due to the greatness of his work, his huge value cannot be denied. Which is something that we cannot say about many Romanians today: Brancusi is a citizen of the universe and we have the duty to follow into his steps and to cherish him. AGERPRES