MEUNIER, Constantin
(b.1831, Etterbeek, d. 1905, Ixelles)


Belgian sculptor, painter and draughtsman. He was directed towards an artistic career by his elder brother, the engraver Jean-Baptiste Meunier (1821-1900). He entered the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, in September 1845 and studied under the sculptor Louis Jehotte (1804-1884) from 1848. In addition, in 1852 he attended the private studio of the sculptor Charles-Auguste Fraikin (1817-1893). Gradually he came to feel that sculpture, at least in the traditional form taught in Brussels, was incapable of providing an adequate vehicle for either exposition or expression. Still at the Academy, he transferred to painting, therefore, in 1853, and followed the courses given by François-Joseph Navez, studying in the evenings at the Saint-Luc studio, with Charles De Groux (1825-1870).

He became friends with Louis Dubois, Félicien Rops and other rebellious young artists who were to found the Société Libre des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1868. With these, Meunier was part of the realist avant-garde, while seeking out a path of his own in painting. It has been said that De Groux had a decisive influence on Meunier. The latter partly denied this and insisted that he had felt the need very early to practice an art that was more devoted to the masses, to the people. His interest in everyday life, in the experience and condition of man, can already be discerned in the sketches and studies he made during his stays in the Trappist monastery of Westmalle, near Antwerp, between 1857 and 1875. He exhibited some of these works at the Brussels Salon in the early 1860s. At this time he also carried out a number of commissions for churches, which he accepted in order to support his family.

After 1880 Meunier discovered his main theme in industrial regions and coal mines, namely the representation of work in Naturalist paintings. From 1885, as a sculptor he produced monumental realistic figures that lacked the pathos of Rodin. An unmistakable counterparts to Millet's farmers, his modern heroes testified to the French painter's influence on the main exponents of Belgian sculpture.

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