Brancusi looked for universal qualities in the particular and understood that a part of the body could stand for the whole. The most expressive feature of the human form is the head. Brancusi’s sympathetic portrayal of Head of a Sleeping Child c.1908 is still delicately realistic, but already in a work like Prometheus 1911 individuality is pared down to a minimum. The sense of drama implied by the title – Prometheus was punished by the gods for bringing fire to men – also appears to be, literally, smoothed away. 

In Sleeping Muse 1909-10 a similar process of reduction is visible. The elegant pinching of the nose runs into the steeply arched brows, describing a form that provides a clear structure for the face. A further stage in this refinement is evident in The Newborn II 1919-21, in which an angled plane suggests the screaming mouth that itself symbolises the struggle of entering the world.