Monument to Emile Zola, avenue Emile Zola, Paris, c.1902-09 (bronze)
Artist Sculpture

Constantin Meunier is an unique artist

Constantin Meunier, A Maidservants Breakfast, 1880s
A Maidservants Breakfast, 1880s

Constantin Meunier is a unique artist who was never able to make the final choice between painting and sculpture

Constantin Meunier (April 12, 1831 April 4, 1905) a famous Belgian artist of the XIX century, an outstanding master who worked in the style of social realism. Meunier was a talented painter and sculptor whose work can rightfully be considered a graphic reflection of the political and social events of the industrial era. The heroes of his paintings and sculptural works were usually ordinary workers and peasants. And the artist’s biography is closely connected with his native Brussels.

At the beginning of his creative career, Constantin Meunier specialized in the creation of paintings of religious and historical genres, but did not achieve much success. But paintings and sculptures, executed in the spirit of socialist realism, brought him great fame, both at home and abroad.

Firedamp, 1893 (bronze)
Firedamp, 1893


Constantin Meunier was born on April 12, 1831 on the outskirts of Brussels, in an industrial area called Etterbeck. His parents were from the Borinage mining region, who moved to the capital of Belgium in the early 1820s in search of a better life. The family lived very poorly, and in addition to this, the father of the future artist committed suicide as soon as Konstantin was four years old.

It is not known how the boy’s life would have developed if not for his 10-year-old brother Jean-Baptiste, who at that time was already studying at the engraving school with Professor Luigi Calamatta. It was he who first noticed the young Meunier’s talent for art and began to independently teach him the basics of drawing and woodcarving. Jean-Baptiste turned out to be a skillful teacher beyond his years and managed to develop the artistic abilities of his younger brother.

Head of a Worker
Head of a Worker
In the Black Country, 1890
In the Black Country, 1890

In 1845, 14-year-old Constantin Meunier was admitted to study at the Brussels Academy of Arts, where his first mentor was the outstanding painter François-Joseph Navez. Under the guidance of an experienced professor, the young man studied for almost nine years, painted a number of interesting paintings and successfully debuted at an academic exhibition. But in addition to painting, Meunier also really liked sculpture and he began to take private lessons from the sculptor Louis Jeotte. And later got a job as an assistant in the workshop of Charles Auguste Fraikin.

Constantin Meunier. Monument to Emile Zola, avenue Emile Zola, Paris, c.1902-09 (bronze)
Monument to Emile Zola, avenue Emile Zola, Paris, c.1902-09 (bronze)

Painter career

After graduating from the academy in 1854, Konstantin, after some deliberation, nevertheless chose the career of a painter, not a sculptor. Initially, he focused on the religious genre, painted pictures depicting the life of monks. And often visited the monastery of the Trappist brothers in Westmalle. Several times he tried to get a teaching position at the Brussels Academy of Arts, but to no avail.

Constantin Meunier. Industry, 1896
Industry, 1896

In 1862, Constantin Meunier married the music teacher Leocardi Gorno, with whom he lived happily for the rest of his life. His wife gave birth to five children three boys and two girls. But the artist’s eldest son lived only a few months.

In the early 1870s, Meunier left the religious genre and switched to painting historical paintings and portraits. But, despite all efforts, in this area he did not manage to achieve significant success. Painting brought the family a very modest income.

Only in 1880 an event took place in the artist’s life that radically changed his future destiny.

The famous Belgian writer Camille Lemonnier invited Constantin Meunier to do some illustrations for his book La Belgique, describing the life of ordinary miners. The master went to the homeland of his ancestors, to the Borinage mining region, to see with his own eyes how people live in this land.

The trip made a huge impression on the artist, he was shocked by the difficult conditions in which the miners have to work every day to earn a piece of bread. Meunier returned to Brussels as a different person and was determined from that moment to devote himself to realistic art. The heroes of his paintings are now miners, metallurgists and dockers, and the palette of colors has acquired a characteristic gloomy-dark accent.

Puddlers, 1893 (bronze)
Puddlers, 1893 (bronze)

In the fall of 1882, on behalf of the Belgian government, the artist left for Seville to make several copies of Pedro de Campaña’s works for the Brussels Museum. He stayed in Spain for about six months and managed to create a number of paintings of the everyday genre, describing the life of ordinary workers of this country.

Return from the mine, Louvain, Constantin Meunier Museum
Return from the mine, Louvain, Constantin Meunier Museum
In 1884, after a long break, Constantin Meunier decided to return to sculptural art again.

It was in bronze that he saw tremendous opportunities for the artistic embodiment of the images of brave hero-workers. His very first sculptural composition “Docker”, created in 1885, made a splash at the Brussels exhibition and marked the beginning of the rapid growth of the artist’s popularity.

In subsequent years, Meunier only multiplied the fame of a brilliant sculptor and painter. In 1893, at an exhibition in Paris, he received the highest award and has already achieved world recognition. The authoritative master vied with each other to invite the authorities of different countries of the Old World, he visited Germany. Austria, Czechoslovakia and once again visited Spain.

The Belgian government entrusted him with the execution of a number of large orders, including the famous masterpiece “Monument to Labor”, on which the master worked until his death. At the zenith of fame, Constantin Meunier died on April 4. 1905 at the age of 73 in Brussels, where he was buried with great honors.

The Glebe, 1892 (bronze)
The Glebe, 1892 (bronze)
The most famous works of Constantin Meunier

The genius Belgian has created many beautiful paintings and amazing sculptural works of art during his life. And yet, the most famous works of Constantin Meunier are:

  • Docker (1885) is the artist’s first generally recognized sculptural masterpiece, embodying the collective image of port workers. This work is on the square in front of the main entrance to the largest Belgian port of Antwerp.
  • The Sower (1896) is a bronze sculpture praising the work of a simple rural worker. The original version of the statue is now in the Brussels Botanical Museum. And dozens of its copies have been installed in different parts of the world.
  • The Horseman at the Watering Hole (1899) is a majestic bronze monument on a granite pedestal located in the Ambiorix Square in the center of Brussels. In this work, the artist depicted with amazing accuracy the smallest details of the figures of a rider and a horse.
  • “Monument to Labor” (1930) a grandiose monument, on which the master worked for almost 15 years. In total, he created 5 sculptures and four high reliefs, glorifying ordinary workers. The majestic monument was erected on the Brussels embankment only 25 years after the death of the brilliant artist.

Constantin Meunier made a huge contribution to the development of European realistic art.

The Hammerman
The Hammerman
Constantin Meunier. The Longshoreman of the Harbor of Antwerp (bronze sculpture)
The Longshoreman of the Harbor of Antwerp (bronze sculpture)
The Peasants' War
The Peasants’ War