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Constantin Meunier: 1831 - 1905

Constantin Meunier was born on April 12, 1831, in Etterbeek, a suburb of Brussels. He first came into contact with artists in his mother's boarding house, and later he attended the Brussels Academy, where he studied sculpture under Charles Auguste Fraikin. He was, however, also attracted to painting and went to the atelier run by Francois Joseph Navez. At this stage Meunier's style was insipid and academic.

Meunier first exhibited at the Brussels Salon in 1851. About three years later he abandoned sculpture and turned to painting, possibly on the advice of Charles de Groux, with whom he became friendly. Together they frequented the Saint-Luc-Studio, and Meunier was certainly influenced by his friend. He made designs for stained glass and fabrics, and produced many religious paintings. These clearly reveal the influence of Millet and Courbet. Meunier frequently stayed in the Westmalle Trappist monastery, where he made studies for many pictures, including The Burial of a Trappist Monk, 1860.

In 1862 Meunier married, and settled down to a happy domestic life. He turned to historical painting and produced a series, Episodes of the Peasant's War. The turning point of his career was the discovery, in 1878, of the industrial world and its pictorial possibilities. Four years later his work was interrupted by a government mission to Spain, but he returned in 1883 to Brussels. He was appointed professor at the Louvain Academy of Fine Arts. In 1885 he again took up sculpture, in which he carried on the industrial subject-matter of his later paintings. His vast Monument to Labor, which was acquired by the Belgian government, remained unfinished. In 1893 he collaborated with the sculptor Karel van der Stappen on a scheme of decorations for the Brussels Botanical Gardens and with the Frenchman Felix Maurice Charpentier on a monument to Emile Zola. Meunier exhibited in Paris on several occasions. His social realism, part of a widespread movement on the continent of Europe in reaction to academic 19th century art, has been particularly influential in East European countries. His approach offers a parallel to the early works of Vincent van Gogh. His technique was an innovation in the history of Belgian sculpture. He represented scenes of the life of the miners, and the misery of the working people from the industrial areas of Belgium.

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