George Minne was arguably the most talented Belgian sculptor of the late 19th and early 20th century. A specialist in small scale figurative works, his most powerful sculptures date to the first decades of his career, before the Great War. The present model convey's Minne's obsession with human emotions and the interior life. It is one of a small number of touching portrayals of wounded or grieving figures in spiritual and psychological turmoil, which commenced with his Human Suffering of 1884. During his period of working in Brussels, the sculptor developed upon the theme of the Kneeling Youth, eventually creating his dramatic Fountain of Kneeling Figures for the German collector Karl Ernst Osthaus in 1899 (plaster: Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent; final marble: Folkwang Museum, Essen). These early works established Minne's reputation as an innovative sculptor, attracting the attention of the Symbolist poets Grégoire Le Roy, Maurice Maeterlinck and Charles Van Lerberghe, who were themselves preoccupied with the notion of internalised grief. Minne's pessimistic and almost mystical figures cut a stark and refreshing contrast to the idealised nudes being created by many of his contemporaries in Paris and Brussels. The sculptor later gained international recognition when he exhibited sculptures at the 8th exhibition of the Secession in Vienna in 1900, where his mournful figures stood alongside works by Max Klinger, Constantin Meunier and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and he received recognition from Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele.
Le petit blessé II, modelled in 1898, is one of the most iconic of Minne's early renderings of emotional intensity in visual and plastic form. The boy's protective gesture of shielding his wounded arm is given a deeper significance by the tender gesture of the kiss. His svelte, almost wasted, physique marks a radical departure from the image of the muscular heroic youth so prominent in 19th century sculpture. The model was cast in bronze by J. Petermann Bruxelles, Julius Meier-Graefe of La Maison Modern, and A. Brandstetter in Munich. A marble version is illustrated by Leo van Puyvelde (op. cit., no. 22, pl. 20). The present statuette appears to be the sole ivory version.
L. van Puyvelde, George Minne, Brussels, 1930, p. 77, no. 22, pl. 20; A. Alhadeff et. al., George Minne en de kunst rond 1900, Ghent, 1984, p. 156-157, figs. 80, 81; J. van Lennep, Catalogue de la Sculpture. Artistes nés entre 1750 et 1882, cat. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1992, p. 307; R. Hoozee, D. Laoureux, C. Verleysen, I. Rossi-Schrimpf, M. Bisanz-Prakken, L'univers de George Minne & Maurice Maeterlinck, Brussels, 2011
The Museum Europeu d'Art Modern, Barcelona (MEAM)
The Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (European Museum of Modern Art) is one of Barcelona’s hidden gems, situated in an elegant 18th-century palace in the heart of the city’s old town, El Born. Founded for the promotion of 20th and 21st-century figurative sculpture and painting, the museum houses an outstanding and growing collection of contemporary art. Each year it hosts the Figurativas Painting and Sculpture Awards, which brings together representations of the human form by contemporary artists from across the globe.
The following lots are a carefully curated selection of highlights from the Museum’s collection of 19thand 20th-century sculpture. It begins with a series of elegant classicising and Romantic marbles, led by Émmanuel Hannaux’s magisterial Le poète et la sirène (lot 34). These works evidence the belle époque fascination with the idealised human form, combined with wistful and exotic subjects. Affortunato Gori’s sumptuous Oriental Dancer (lot 37) highlights the fin de siècle taste for Orientalist subjects, reflecting major literary works from the time, notably Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1906). Historicism is represented in the very rare and dramatic original terracotta Monument to Beethoven by Théodore Rivière (lot 48).
The divergent movement towards a modernist aesthetic is witnessed in George Minne’s beautifully carved Le petit blesse II (lot 59) which represents the Symbolist desire to depict inner emotions in plastic form. Several works within the sale were created by artists like Minne, who were heavily influenced or trained by Auguste Rodin. The most striking of these is Louis Dejean’s column of swirling and twisting bodies (lot 82), which recalls Rodin’s Gates of Hell. A more classicising modernist aesthetic is seen in Fritz Klimsch’s elegant rendering of Frühling (Spring) (lot 63). This is complemented by Raymond Delamarre’s strong Art Deco David (lot 55), and his totemic torso LaBolognaise (lot 70). However, perhaps the most beautiful of the Art Deco sculptures is the Nude Girl by Jaume Otero i Camps (lot 40), a Catalan artist with native resonances for MEAM. Charles Despiau’s Le Faune (lot 58), seen on the cover of the catalogue, displays a softer classicism in line with the work of Aristide Maillol. Portraiture is represented by François Pompon’s charming Bust of André Leproust, and Jan and Joël Martel’s extraordinary clean-cut image of Professor Henri Vignes.
Each of the works in the catalogue were exhibited in Una mica d’escultura, si us plau! L’escultura europea del segle XX at MEAM, a dedicated exhibition of the Museum’s collection of European 19thand 20th-century sculpture.
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