This abstract sculpture, which stands six feet tall, consists of a simple white limestone base on which sits a black marble stand, and a shiny, elongated ellipsoid bronze head. The title suggests that the figure depicted is a woman of African descent. The bronze has a reflective, high-polish finish, and the head is composed of three distinct features. On the front is a mouth with full, lush lips. On the opposite side is a short ponytail just above the neck with three points, resembling the tail of a cartoon fish. And topping off the sculpture is a smaller, slender ellipsoid coil of hair which resembles a smooth bronze egg balanced on one end. The length of the egg shape is bisected by an arched line, perhaps a fold in her knotted hair style. The stand that holds the head is perfectly smooth and black, and is shaped like an x or a plus sign when viewed from above. It is topped with a small black cylindrical pedestal upon which the elongated bronze head sits. The head itself is so highly polished that it reflects everything and everyone in the room around it in its golden sheen.
Constantin Brancusi
La Négresse blonde (The Blond Negress), 1926

Fusing the traditions of classical sculpture with Romanian, African, Egyptian, and, later, even industrial forms, Brancusi’s groundbreaking works introduced abstraction and primitivism into sculptural practice. They were as important to the development of Modernism as the paintings of Pablo Picasso.

Brancusi’s sculptural vocabulary consisted of relatively few highly distilled forms, one of the most significant being the ovoid or egg shape that is the basis for La Négress blonde. The title of the work makes reference to an African woman Brancusi had met in Marseilles. The perfect, upturned ovoid serves as the woman’s head. Her distinguishing features are reduced to a pair of full lips, a chignon, and a zigzag ornament at the back of the neck, perhaps denoting a scarf or the lower part of her coiffure. The sculpture’s pedestal comprises a cylinder, a Greek cross, and a plinth that can be read as the woman’s body, shoulders, and neck. The bronze portion of the sculpture, however, can also be interpreted as the body of a golden fish, the top and rear embellishments becoming its dorsal and tail fins. The highly polished surface allows the viewer to contemplate the contrast between the simplicity of the sculpture and the complexity of his or her own reflection.

In attempting to capture the “essence of things,” Brancusi broke with the Western tradition of representing the world in a realistic manner and paved the way for twentieth-century sculptural abstraction. His work was radical for its time, and when detractors refused to consider it art, his friend and peer Marcel Duchamp came to his defense, arguing, “To say that the sculpture of Brancusi is not art is like saying an egg is not an egg.”

Artwork Info

Artwork title
La Négresse blonde (The Blond Negress)
Artist name
Constantin Brancusi
Date created
bronze, marble, and limestone
70 3/4 in. x 10 3/4 in. x 10 3/4 in. (179.71 cm x 27.31 cm x 27.31 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture, 1900 to Now.

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