Retreat (coda)

A special thanks for giving interiority its place in the public world (see previous anguished post) should definitely go to the late 19th century sculptor George Minne (1).
Though much of his work may seem too shriekingly tormented to our current taste, he also brought into the world some meditative sculptures which achieve a unique balance of stillness and expressiveness, in an almost classical contrapposto.

“The kneeling youths”, “The small relic bearer” : slight, humbly kneeling figures, all carrying some weight (be it a relic or their own upper torso).
Their head is bent, resigned to look forever inward, to endure without expecting anything from the world (2).

Clearly, not the most clamorous or glamorous statues. Their maker, too, seems to have led a rather withdrawn life . And yet, these static, introspective statues did strike a chord in the art circles of round about 1900: both fellow artists and patrons of the arts avidly collected (3) many different versions of these “kneeling youths”.

Therefore, in many an interior painting of that time (showing
an artists’ gathering
, fellow artists’ (self) portraits or portraits of patrons in their habitats) one can spot in the background the familiar shape of one of Minne’s introverted kneeling youths. Still, withdrawn, but unmistakably present.

Also in museum rooms, these Minne statues tend to stand a bit apart, quietly reserved, drawing the spectator’s gaze into their stillness.

Even worldly bankers once seem to have seen fit to add so unworldly a statue to their collection, or so I could see for myself. Over 10 years ago (at a time when I still felt obliged to participate in work receptions), while stressing in a big stuffy bank room full of self-important, extraverted men, I all of a sudden noticed this Minne statue, discreetly standing in a corner. Ah, the relief I felt – knowing there was at least this still, friendly presence I could gaze at, from time to time.

(1) An excellent on-line introduction to Minne’s art in (mostly) English in a Canadian journal
(2) Below you'll find a nice characterisation (in French) of these Minne statues, by Andre De Ridder, in a beloved old booklet about Minne (a little book i found in the unsurpassed Posada art bookshop whose closure earlier this year I still am mourning – where am I now to get hold of all those old art history books? This particular Minne booklet was jointly edited in 1947 by the Belgian “Ministère de l’Instruction publique” and the legendary Antwerp schoolbook-editor “De Sikkel”): “Chaque oeuvre se replie sur elle-même, se tasse en quelque sorte; elle semble subir le monde extérieur, en porter le poids, au sens moral et materiel, plutôt que conquerir l’espace et s’y élancer”
(3) i consider myself a loving collector, too, of these Minne statues, but being a humble post-modern melancholiac living in 'the age of mechanical reproduction' – i obviously do not collect tangible things, but content myself with stolen glances in bankers’ rooms, long meditations in museum rooms, amateur photos taken in those same museum rooms , official photo reproductions & their copies, ...


Anonymous said...

Het Ministère de l'instruction publique toonde toen meer culturele interesse dan nu, gok ik maar.

ffflaneur said...

Ja, we kunnen ons dat nu zelfs bijna niet meer voorstellen!