Etude de Mlle Pogany is an intriguing portrait study in which Constantin Brancusi has reduced the forms and appearance of his most famous muse to a crisp, near-geometric distillation of form. There is a near-Purist rigour to this image which is accentuated by the deliberately limited palette that Brancusi has employed in capturing the ovals, circles and other shapes with which he has conjured the Hungarian painter, shown here leaning a head on her hand, the background more angular with the right-angled crow-stepping of the chair against a monochrome field.
Margit Pogany met Brancusi in Paris around 1910 and soon asked if he would create a portrait of her. Later, Pogany would move to Australia; her recollections of sitting for Brancusi provide an intriguing insight into his working techniques in sculpture, as she remembered him creating clay sketches which he would destroy at the end of each sitting. It was only after her departure that he finally created the lyrical, radically simplified portrait bust, created in bronze and marble, which would mark his determined step onto the path towards a near-abstract reduction of form. That reduction is likewise clear in Etude de Mlle Pogany, where the face has been rendered with similar arcing eyebrows delineating the orbits of the eyes. Here, though, those eyes appear almost closed in opposition to the wider ones in the portrait; in that sense, Etude de Mlle Pogany may relate more to his Danaïde, also considered to be based on her features.
Margit Pogany remained a friend and correspondent with Brancusi for a long time, a Muse able to inspire him not least through her appearance and the helmet of dark hair visible in Etude de Mlle Pogany. This picture would later become associated with another artist: it was given by Brancusi to Charles Sheeler, a pioneer of Modernism in New York who worked in the fields of painting and photography alike. Indeed, Sheeler was one of the few photographers Brancusi trusted enough to capture images of his own work, as well as taking portrait shots of Mrs Eugene Meyer which the sculptor could use as working documents.