Romania seeks public help to pay for Brancusi masterpiece

BUCHAREST (AFP) - Romania called on its citizens yesterday to dig deep into their pockets to keep a masterpiece by celebrated sculptor Constantin Brancusi in the country.

The government in one of the European Union's poorest countries has agreed to pay €11 million (S$16.8 million) for Wisdom Of The Earth, considered one of the finest works by the Romanian-French artist.

But the state is putting up just €5 million from its own coffers for the sculpture, a national treasure which was seized by the communist regime and has been at the heart of a decades-long legal battle over its ownership.

It is seeking to raise the rest from the public and has launched an appeal to Romanian citizens, private companies and the diaspora, Culture Minister Vlad Alexandrescu said at a press conference.

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos added: "We are poor but with such a work of art... it's now or never."

He said Romania would be "poorer still" without the sculpture, a woman carved out of limestone sitting with her arms on her legs and staring enigmatically into the distance.

It is currently on display at the Cotroceni National Museum in Bucharest.

The Romanian state has first refusal on all works considered national treasures and had been engaged in long negotiations to buy the Brancusi from the owners, who were initially demanding €20 million.

The sculptor, who spent much of his life in Paris where he died in 1957, had sold Wisdom Of The Earth to his Romanian friend and art lover Gheorghe Romascu in 1911.

But it was seized in 1957 by the communist authorities claiming they intended to exhibit it at an art exhibition overseas.

After a lengthy legal battle launched after the fall of the Ceausescu regime in 1989, it was finally returned in 2010 to Romascu's descendants who announced four years later that they intended to sell it.