George Minne was a 19th century Belgian sculptor and artist often tied to the Symbolist movement. His works explored mysticism, spiritualism, and the dichotomy and inner conflict in humans. His most famous work is a sculpture series called the Kneeling Youth, a series that included the famous figure The Fountain of Kneeling Youths.
George Minne, also known as Georges Minne, was born in 1866 in Ghent as the second-eldest child of Frédéric Auguste Minne and Emma Coralia Delphine Vankakerken. His father was an architect and influenced George’s career as an artist and his brother, Jules’, career as an architect. Minne’s childhood and school career was difficult due to his introversion and the authoritarian atmosphere at his school. The young Minne worked on drawings continually until he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts of Ghent in 1879, leaving primary school behind.
Minne studied architecture, sculpture, and painting at the Ghent Academy and later enrolled at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels until 1889. In 1886, Minne left Fine Arts Academy to practice in a Ghent studio and worked on famous pieces like Men Fighting, Couple Entwined, and Mother Grieving over her Dead Child.
During this time, Minne made his first headway into the art world as he joined the Symbolists. Symbolism was an art and literary movement in poetry, sculpture, and painting that disavowed naturalism and realism. Instead, Symbolism explored themes of human spirituality and inner conflict—a central theme running through the works of Minne and his contemporaries. Minne’s involvement in French Symbolism began with an 1886 visit to Paris where he met writers Maurice Maeterlink and Gregore Le Roy and worked on book illustrations for the French Symbolists.
The sculptor Auguste Rodin was a contemporary and inspiration of Minne and in 1890, he sought to work in the artist’s Parisian studio. Famously, Rodin dismissed Minne and said “I have nothing to teach you.” In 1891, Minne was elected into the arts group Les XX formed by Octave Maus.
For a time after Rodin’s rejection, Minne worked for his architect father and married Josephine Destanberg, with whom he had eight children. Minne’s work for his critical father caused a rift between them and Minne’s financial situation to deteriorate. He tried farming in Zevergem until 1894, when he moved back to Ghent and made religious plaster art and carousel pediments to support his poverty-stricken family.
Between 1890 to 1893, Minne stopped sculpting altogether. However, in 1896, after his time in Brussels, Minne began his most celebrated works. The most notable of these works is Kneeling Youth, a sculpture series that received much acclaim.
During World War I, Minne fled to Wales with his family while his three eldest sons were enlisted in the war. Minne did not work on sculptures during the war due to financial incapability of sourcing materials. He produced 400 charcoal drawings instead, like the Waiting Woman, that evoke his profound fear during the war period and that were procured by the Museum of Fine Arts of Ghent in 1949 from Elie Burthoul.
After the war, Minne returned to Ghent in 1919 and began giving lessons at the Academy of Ghent. Minne’s influence grew with Leo Van Puvvelde’s monograph and his 1931 receipt of the title of Baron. Minne continued exploring religion and motherhood in sculpture and drawings and repeated images from his earlier works like Mother Grieving over her Dead Child. Minne was active until his death in 1941. He was 74 when he died and his own work, A Woman and Child, is displayed on his grave. In 1941, a retrospective exhibition was displayed at the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels to celebrate his oeuvre.
George Minne’s Work
George Minne received much critical acclaim in the 1900s, even though most of his famous works were from the 1890s. He is a major influence on French, Belgian, and German artists and used Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite influences in his own work. Minne is primarily known for his sculpture works made from bronze and plaster. His drawings, using the media of charcoal and paper, are also prominent features of his oeuvre.
Major Themes in George Minne’s Work
Overall, Minne’s work is known for its unique portrayal of the intensity of human emotions, which was also characteristic of Symbolism. With his captivating sculpture entitled Human Suffering, which he constructed in 1884, Minne set the thematic precedent of his most revered works. Like Human Suffering, most of his works showcase different figures immersed in introspection or grief.
Throughout his career, he dealt with many emotive themes, including religion, sorrow, grief, youth, and introspection. His sculptures are known for their distinct ‘tight’ poses, compactly leaning into different embraces. Minne purposefully constructed seamless, simplified figures to emphasize the tight clench of their bodies and worry wrinkles as well as other signs of emotion.
For example, one of his most famous works features a mother holding her dead baby, her face and body contorted in grief. Minne created many variations of this theme, largely portraying the children as passive objects to emphasize the subjectivity and emotions of the mother.
Minne is also famous for his sculptures of embracing figures. Couple Embracing and Men Fighting are two highly revered pieces from this theme, both dating to 1886. However, The Prodigal Son is perhaps the most expressive and complex of his works in this theme. This sculpture features a reunion between a father and son. In the sculpture, both figures are smelted together in an embrace, the lines and bodily forms expressing the emotional tension.
The Prodigal Son is among many of Minne’s works to follow Christian themes. Religion is another notable theme that reappears in his works. Apart from The Prodigal Son, Minne is also famous for John the Baptist and The Three Women at the Tomb. His use of religious themes was not restricted to sculptures. He used Christian themes in his drawings, paintings, and other illustrations. For instance, he illustrated the poetry collection of Serres Chaudes by Maurice Maeterlinck using moral and religious imagery.
The Market Value of George Minne Artworks
Minne made strides for the Symbolist art movement, particularly through his sculptures. Through his incorporation of gothic themes, his art manifested the vagueness and generality inherent in the fundamental principles of Symbolism. However, the vagueness is contrasted by the unique and introspective nature of his work. Both his drawings and sculptures portray similar themes in vastly different ways. Moreover, Minne’s techniques are considered highly intricate and abstract.
Therefore, in the contemporary art market, his work is considered highly valuable and is often very expensive. Currently, depending on the size and medium of the artwork, Minne’s work sells for anything between USD $600 and USD $400,000. Sculptures generally have the highest value of his works. His drawings can also have a high value. Although they are not as popular as his sculptures, his drawings follow the same themes as his other Symbolist works. Therefore, they can cost thousands of US dollars.
Subject matter is very important in the market for Minne’s work. His Symbolist works often have a higher value than his works in other styles. Variations on his most famous work, ‘The Fountain of the Kneeling Youths’, are highly sought-after pieces, often selling for many thousands of dollars.
Due to his legacy, Minne’s work is consistently sold at prominent auctions and museums for interested art collectors.
Get an Appraisal
Is there a George Minne sculpture in your personal collection? A valuable piece of art should always be properly appraised with a certificate of authenticity. Reach out to Revere Auctions for an appraisal today. We appraise and sell art in St. Paul, Minnesota and can provide certified art appraisal reports.
Our full-service appraisals will give you an estimate of the sculpture’s value and give you a record of its authenticity. Revere Auctions follows the appraisal standards of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). The sculpture’s appraisal report can be used for insurance records, estate tax estimates, and value estimates for charitable donations.If you want to sell your George Minne piece, we also provide auction services. We provide free auction estimates on our website here. You can send us a photo of your George Minne piece and we will contact you with an estimate of its value and provide you with options for sale at Revere Auctions.