Constantin Meunier’s Realism drew on the working people of Wallonia for inspiration.
BRUSSELS - En route for Maastricht, my colleague Claude Pienning and I are doing client visits in Brussels. Not far from one visit is the Museé Constantin Meunier and we can't resist calling in.
Constructed by Meunier as both his home and studio, first impressions are not promising. The dowdy decor, however, becomes inconsequential as we progress deeper into the artist's lair and are immersed in his work. The extensive range of sculptures, paintings and sketches on display reveal a brilliant talent.
Today he is an artist who is out of fashion, but studying his work in this forgotten sanctuary, it breathes a life and a sincerity that sums up a gritty no-punches-pulled era. Influenced by Emile Zola's Realism – sculptures for an unfinished memorial to the French writer are displayed in the artist's magnificent studio at the rear of the premises – his work shares the style and values expressed by the two giants of 19th century Realism, Jean-Francois Millet and Vincent Van Gogh. But rather than celebrating peasants in the fields, Meunier turned to the coalmines of Wallonia for inspiration. This is reflected in its most elevated form in his tryptich of a miner's day: La Descente, Le Calvaire, La Remonte, a work which – surprisingly without cliché – combines an obvious metaphor with a genuine nobility of spirit.
Claude and I emerge into sparkling March sunshine from this rough diamond of a museum that keeps its gems well hidden. Invigorated from our exposure to Meunier's work – our visual batteries are restored if you like – we are ready to immerse ourselves in the pleasures of Maastricht and the TEFAF art fair ahead. More discoveries await.
The nondescript exterior of the Musée Constatin Meunier belies the quality of the collection within.
The museum contains an array of Meunier’s sculpture and painting.
The Constantin Meunier Museum in Brussels.