BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanians can collectively own a work of their greatest artist, the modernist giant Constantin Brancusi, by joining a government-led campaign to buy one of his sculptures.
After an epic 18 month walk from his tiny Romanian village, the 27-year old sculptor arrived in Paris in 1904 and eventually worked under French star Auguste Rodin.
In 1907, he left Rodin's studio saying "Nothing grows under big trees" and created "The Meekness of the Earth" - a vulnerable, crouching female nude of primitive simplicity - later selling it to Romanian engineer Gheorghe Romascu.
The communist regime seized it in 1957. Romascu's heirs got it back in 2012 after a protracted legal battle.
Bucharest launched a campaign on Thursday to raise 6 million euros to buy the piece, "Cumintenia Pamantului" in Romanian.
"I am calling on Romanians to take individual responsibility because I want Brancusi to unite us, not divide us," Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said.
The fundraising drive carries the slogan "Brancusi is mine." Donations come with tax exemptions.
The government will put up 5 million euros of the 11 million euros ($12.32 million) price tag, hoping to raise the rest from Romanians by end-September.
"This sculpture - representative for his entire work - is the last one that the Romanian state can recover and make accessible to the wider public and art lovers," the government said in a statement.
Brancusi was born in the small village of Hobita near the Carpathian Mountains, but lived in Paris for most of his life.
He bequeathed his studio and some of his art to the French state after his death in 1957. He had wanted to leave his art to Romania, but the then communist government declined the offer.
Little of Brancusi's art is in Romania, with the notable exception of an open air monumental ensemble that includes the "Endless Column" in the city of Targu Jiu, a 1937 tribute to fallen World War I soldiers.
In 2009, one of his sculptures sold for a record 29 million euros.
($1 = 0.8928 euros)
Reporting by Luiza Ilie, editing by William Hardy