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Currently shown
Constantin Meunier

Toilers of the Sea

Artist

Constantin Meunier
Etterbeek, Belgium, 1831 – Ixelles, Belgium, 1905

Title

Toilers of the Sea

Date

1898

Materials

Bronze

Dimensions

59 x 96 x 13.2 cm

Founder

Cast B. Verbeyst, Brussels

Credits

Purchase, gifts of Mrs. Neil B. Ivory and Bruce McNiven, and anonymous gift, inv. 2000.7

Collection

Western Art

Meunier was one of the most highly regarded artists of the so-called Naturalist movement, which depicted peasant and working-class life. Although the sculpture’s title is also that of a novel by Victor Hugo, the subject is entirely original. At low tide, workers with sturdy horses are bringing sticks bound in bundles to repair the breakwaters that hold the beach sands in place. This common activity of the Belgian shoreline – the polders – is treated as an episode from the saga of rural life and man’s heroic struggle against the elements for survival. Belgian author Émile Verhaeren described it as “a very simple bas-relief, but of very great elegance [...] an everyday occurrence, a routine act, magnified by its epic conception.” The artist’s powerful social realism is tempered here by the sweeping lines of the sea, which are more typical of Art Nouveau’s spirit.

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