Constantin Meunier was one of the most important Belgian artists of the second half of the 19th century. He is best known as a social realist artist who turned the image of the simple, poor workman into an proud icon of the Industrial Age, be it in painting, or above all in sculpture. His profound compassion was deeply religiously rooted.
About Constantin Meunier
Belgian painter and sculptor
Brussels 1831 – 1905 Brussels
Constantin Meunier grew up in a poor family. He was born one year after the Belgian Revolution of 1830, a terrible period that profoundly marked his father. Constantin was only four years old when his father committed suicide.
Meunier started his artistic training as a sculptor. “The stone brakers”, a painting from 1849 by Gustave Courbet, had such an impact on him that he understood that elegant, classicising marble sculptures would not give an adequate answer on the contemporary social and artistic issues he was fighting with. He therefore chose for the coming thirty years for painting.
The first decades he painted history pieces, often devotional paintings, typical of this age of late Romanticicm. Next he became attracted to the grim, sad daily life of Cictercian Trappist friars and later, from 1879 onwards, also of farmers. In the 1870s he turned to fashionable interior scenes, sometimes with naughty children.
At the age of 51 he was sent by the Belgian state for half a year to Seville in Southern Spain in 1882-1883: here he discovered colour and chiaroscuro and he painted daily life scenes set in popular quarters.
After his return in Belgium the French-speaking Belgian realistic, naturalistic author Camille Lemonnier asked him to make engravings for his book “La Belgique” (1888) about the hopelessness of the hard labour and life of the Belgian miners. The confrontation with the extreme poverty of the factory-workers, the labourers and the miners changed his art completely.
By 1884, soon after his return from Spain, Meunier had started sculpting again. Sculpture became his prime art, his paintings and engravings would serve to describe the lives and the work of his monumentally portrayed heroes of the modern age. His art became a reflection of the industrial, social and political developments of his day. It represents a compassionate and committed view of man, of his hard labour and of the world. Sculpture surpassed painting to express his engaged sympathy for the thoughness of the life of the worker.
Meunier continued working in a social realist style: he turned simple people of the lowest social levels into icons of modernity. He gave them a “grandeur”, a greatness, a dignity, a noble attitude they had never received before. In this his art reminds of Jean-François Millet in painting, of Auguste Rodin in sculpture. His art is full of a deeply religiously rooted reflexion, of retained power.
From 1887 unti 1894 Meunier lived in Louvain, where he had been appointed professor in painting at the local academy. In 1894 he lost both his two adult sons, and he moved back to Brussels, where he received international success. He died there in 1905 at the age of 73.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a colourful, modern composition by one of the great names of 19th century Belgian art.
Because it is a dignifying image of a tired farmer, after a long day’s work.
Because its beautiful colour palette is rather exceptional within the grim, dark oeuvre of Meunier.