For Belgian painter and sculptor Constantin Meunier, elevating labor into art - in coal mines, shipyards, or factories - gave an iconic, dignified vision of the most humble professions. Meunier experienced poverty firsthand as a child, growing up in the working-class neighborhood of Etterbeek in Brussels. Nevertheless, his artistic talent distinguished him at a young age, and he began to train at age 14, first with sculptor Louis Jehotte and then Charles-Auguste Fraikin. His work in sculpture is accomplished, but his passion for social commentary was stifled by the medium. Seeing Courbet's painting The Stonebreakers in 1851 was a pivotal moment for him. For the next thirty years, painting and printmaking were his direct path toward the social and political commentary so essential to him. His depictions of female coal miners and mothers working in tobacco factories with babies at their feet are particularly moving. In the 1880's he was appointed professor at the Louvain Academy of Fine Arts, and he began to create sculptures again. He passed away in 1905. Meunier's influence can be traced through Realist Art into the first decades of the 20th century.In 1939, at the last house where he lived and worked, the Musée Constantin-Meunier was opened in Ixelles, Brussels. In 1986 it was subsequently renovated, and is attached to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium.
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