Will Romania Lose Its Finest Brancusi, the €20 Million Wisdom of the Earth?

The Romanian government is yet to say whether it'll buy the masterpiece.

The Wisdom of the Earth (Cumintenia Pamantului) is probably the most important sculpture by Brancusi that is still on Romanian territory  Photo: via Romania-insider.com

The Wisdom of the Earth (Cumintenia Pamantului) is probably the most important sculpture by Brancusi that is still on Romanian territory.
Photo: via Romania-insider.com

Displayed at the Cotroceni Art Museum in Bucharest, The Wisdom of the Earth is considered to be a true Brancusi masterpiece—and one of Romania’s finest modernist artworks. Yet the government’s refusal to say whether it will purchase the €20 million sculpture has left it in a murky legal limbo and its owners unable to sell, the Guardian reports.

Created in 1907, the work dates from the same creative period as Brancusi’s celebrated sculptures The Kiss and The Prayer, during which the artist explored concepts such as universal value, expressed in starkly minimal forms. According to Actmediathe sculptor used a block of stone from Paris’s catacombs for the body of the statue.

The statue’s own history reflects the tumult in its creator’s native Romania. The Wisdom of the Earth was purchased in 1911 by engineer and art lover Gheorghe Romascu from the artist himself. It was then forcefully confiscated in 1957 by the Art Museum’s Communist leadership. The sculpture was returned to its legal owners after 51 years and a lengthy trial that had started after the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989, and ended seven years ago, in 2008.

A Romanian stamp featuring Cuminţenia pamântului was  issued in 1967 Photo: via artonstamps.org

A Romanian stamp featuring Cuminţenia pamântului was issued in 1967.
Photo: via artonstamps.org

The latest chapter in the drawn-out saga began in September 2014, when the owners announced they were putting the sculpture up for sale. Auction house Artmark notified the Romanian state about the potential sale. “If you want to sell a work of art that is a national treasure, the state has a preemption right to buy, but it must give an answer within 30 days of notification,” Bogdan Grabowski, the lawyer acting for the Romascu family, told the Guardian. “Until now the state hasn’t proposed a certain sum or asserted that it is willing to take its preemption rights,” he added.

“It is a similar situation with the works of art confiscated by the Nazis,” Grabowski opined, claiming the legal process behind reclaiming works of art confiscated during the communist period had been unnecessarily complex.

The last time a Brancusi work was sold was in June 2014 in New York, when Christie’s auctioned off for €5.4 million a simple plaster cast of his masterpiece The Kiss.

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