Direct carving is an approach to making carved sculpture where the actual process of carving suggests the final form rather than a carefully worked out preliminary model

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  • Constantin Brancusi, 'Head' circa 1919-23
    Constantin Brancusi
    Head circa 1919-23
    Wood (oak)
    object: 292 x 205 x 210 mm
    Purchased 1980© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Sir Jacob Epstein, 'Doves' 1914-15
    Sir Jacob Epstein
    Doves 1914-15
    Greek marble
    object: 648 x 787 x 343 mm
    Purchased 1973© The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein
  • Dame Barbara Hepworth, 'Three Forms (Carving in Grey Alabaster)' 1935
    Dame Barbara Hepworth
    Three Forms (Carving in Grey Alabaster) 1935
    Alabaster
    object: 265 x 473 x 217 mm
    Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1980© Bowness, Hepworth Estate

This new approach was introduced by Constantin Brancusi from about 1906. Before that carved sculpture had always been based on a preconceived model. Often it was then actually carved by craftsmen employed by the artist. The marble sculptures of Auguste Rodin were made in this way.

An important aspect of direct carving was the doctrine of truth to materials (see also impasto). This meant that the artist consciously respected the nature of the material, working it to bring out its particular properties and beauty of colour and surface. Direct carvers used a wide variety of types of marble, stone and wood. They kept to simple forms which respected the original block or tree trunk. Surfaces were kept uncluttered by detail in order to expose the material itself, and were often carefully polished to enhance the colour and markings. The results were often highly abstract.

In introducing direct carving Brancusi brought about a revolution in the tradition of carved sculpture. After Brancusi, notable direct carvers were Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.