Some of the earliest supporters of Brâncu?i’s work were artists, photographers, writers and intellectuals. His first one-man exhibition at Photo-Secession Gallery in New York in 1914 was coordinated by photographer Edward Steichen, a capable liaison between Paris and New York, and a well-connected Stieglitz.
The sculpture portrayed here is titled Léda, an explicit reference to classical Greek mythology, in which Zeus transforms himself into a swan in order to seduce the beautiful Léda, Spartan queen and mother of Helen, over whose kidnapping the Trojan war was fought. Brâncusi often told those visiting his studio that, rather than depicting Zeus as a swan, he instead chose to depict Léda as such. 'I never could imagine a male being turned into a swan, impossible, but a woman, yes, quite easily,' he explained. The circular concrete base upon which the sculpture rests (and which is integral to the work) was conceived and designed by 1916 and commonly used by the artist to display his sculptures.
Brâncu?i's earliest photographs of his sculptures were taken around 1905, and by the 1920s a full-fledged documentation began. Printed in a makeshift darkroom built by Brâncu?i in the corner of his studio, the prints generally all bear distinct marks of their maker. The artist’s photographs of his work are a portal to see through the great master’s own eyes.
The present photograph, printed in the early 1920s, was donated to the Museum by Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz (1914-2001), the second daughter of Agnes Ernst Meyer (1887–1970). As a journalist in New York, the young Meyer met Stieglitz, Steichen and other artists within their circle; it was through this connection that she first met Brâncu?i while on a trip to France in 1908, establishing what became a lifelong friendship. After her marriage to Eugene Meyer, Jr., a wealthy financier, she found herself in the position to collect the work of various significant artists of the time, including Paul Cézanne, John Marin, and Brâncu?i.
The sculpture, Léda, resides in the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, a bequest of Katherine S. Dreier.