Ode to the worker
Helmond Museum will host an international exhibition until 4 March on the work of Belgian sculptor and painter Constantin Meunier.
The ‘Rodin of Belgium’
Constantin Meunier is also known as the ‘Rodin of Belgium’ due to his influence on sculpture. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Belgian sculptor and painter offered a new perspective on labourers, depicting his farmers, factory workers, and miners with dignity and realism. His depiction of working men and women inspired many artists, including Charley Toorop, Else Berg, Harmen Meurs, Herman Heijenbrock, and Vincent van Gogh. On Meunier, Van Gogh wrote the following to his brother Theo in October 1889: ‘Meunier, a far more superior man than I, has painted the women pushing the carts in Borinage and the shift going to the pit and the factories, their red roofs and their black chimneys against a delicate grey sky – all things I’ve dreamed of doing…’
Compassion and admiration
Touched by the poor working and living conditions of the workers in the Seraing blast furnaces, Meunier soon discovered the Belgian mining region of Borinage He stopped painting historic and religious themes and shifted his attention to the workers on the land, in the mines, and in the factories. Through his art, Meunier inspired compassion for working men and women among the general public. He also aroused admiration for these hard workers. Larger than life bronze statues are his trademark. According to him, he owes his success to one thing: ‘I loved those people.’
The Netherlands and Belgium
The central theme of the exhibition is the artist’s perspective on such issues as work, labourers, and working and living conditions, particularly in the Netherlands and Belgium of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this period, Dutch and Belgian artists were in close contact with one another. Dutch artists travelled to Belgium, particularly to Brussels and Borinage, and Belgian artists exhibited their work in the Netherlands.
National and international artists
As part of this exhibition, Helmond Museum is displaying a selection from the impressive oeuvre of Constantin Meunier (1831 Etterbeek/Brussels – 1905 Elsene/Brussels). The exhibition, which includes paintings, drawings, and sculptures, is surrounded by loan items from Meunier’s Belgian contemporaries and pieces from the museum’s Mens en Werk (People and Work) collection.
Featured artists include Pieter de Josselin de Jong, Jan Toorop, Anton van Rappard, Johannes Bosboom, Suze Robertson, W.H. Mesdag, Willem de Zwart, Herman Heijenbrock, Charley Toorop, Harmen Meurs, Else Berg, Kurt Peiser, Emile Thijsebaert, George Higuet, Edward Portielje, Léon Brunin, Camille Pissarro, A-Th. Steinlen, Eugeen Van Mieghem, Gerald Spencer Pryse, Eugène Carrière, Lucien Lejeune, Jean François Millet, and Pierre Paulus de Chatelet. The exhibition also includes sculptures by Charles Octave Levy and Hildo Krop, among others. Films and documentaries will be screened in a special theatre room. These films, such as Misère au Borinage (1934) by Joris Ivens, reveal more about the living and working conditions of the miners in the Borinage region.
With special thanks
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the pieces on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Panorama Mesdag, Belfius Bank in Brussels, Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen, the Patrick Derom Gallery in Brussels, Museum of Fine Arts (BAL) in Liege, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. A financial donation by the Wallonia-Brussels delegation in The Hague made it possible to create a French-language version of the visitors’ guide.