Musée d'Orsay: Constantin Meunier Industry

Constantin Meunier

Constantin Meunier (1831-1905)
Bronze high relief
H. 68; W. 90; D. 36 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Industrie [Industry]

The Belgian Constantin Meunier was the first foreign sculptor whose work was bought by the French state for the Musée du Luxembourg. The works in question were two bronze statuettes, Stevedore at the Port of Antwerp and Man with a Hammer, bought in 1890 at the first Salon held by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which had broken away from the Salon des Artistes Français.

After 1885, Meunier devoted his life to a Monument to Work made up of figures and explicit reliefs. In 1890, he exhibited a small plaster low relief of Industry at the Brussels salon, after his painting in 1884, Removing a Broken Crucible. He showed a study of it at the Paris Salon in 1892, then at the Libre Esthétique show in Brussels in 1895 where a room called Fire and Work was devoted to his work. His success was even greater at the Bing exhibition in Paris in 1896. Georges Clemenceau congratulated him for "rendering the epic story of labour with extraordinary power." Bronze versions of these two life-sized figures were commissioned for the Musée du Luxembourg in 1897.

Meunier composed all the elements of his monument including the four reliefs, Industry (fire) Harvest (air), Port (water) and Mine (earth) but had not decided upon the final arrangement. On one clay model, Industry is placed on the front. On the monument raised long after his death in Laeken in 1930, Harvest has pride of place.

The theme of the Monument to Work, this new form of power, fascinated sculptors who came after Constantin Meunier, in France, men such as Dalou, Rodin and Bouchard. None of them completed it. The manual labourers represented as unfailing heroes have many descendants in Eastern Europe.

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