George Minne

George Minne
© Collection City of Antwerp, Letternhuis

The Flemish sculptor, graphic artist, draftsman and illustrator George Minne dedicated his oeuvre mostly to Symbolist sculptures. From 1900 onwards, his design vocabulary exerted an influence on the Vienna Secessionists, as well as on early Expressionists like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, who adopted the style of his figures in their paintings.

George-Jean-Léonard Minne was born on 30 August 1866 in the Flemish city of Ghent (now Belgium) into an upper-middle-class family. As his father was an architect, Minne initially also studied architecture from 1879 at the Köninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten. In 1883, he transferred to the painting class of Théodore Channeel, and in 1887, during his last year at the Academy, to the sculpture class of Louis Van Biesbroek.

Minne admired the sculptures of August Rodin. Influenced by Rodin’s style, he created his first chief work in 1886 called Mother, Grieving Over Her Dead Child. That year, he met the writer Maurice Maeterlinck, and subsequently illustrated some of his books in a medieval-looking graphic style informed by the English Pre-Raphaelites. In 1890, Minne presented his works for the first time with the Symbolists of the artists’ association Les XX, whose members included Theo van Rijsselberghe and Fernand Khnopff, and which he himself joined in 1891. In 1892, he participated in the eminent “Salon de la Rose + Croix” in Paris, and married Josephine Destanberg, with whom he had eight children. Plagued by existential fears, Minne tried his hand at farming around 1893.

In 1895, he moved to Brussels, where he took sculpture classes with Charles van der Stappen at the Académie Saint-Luc de Gand. He met Henry van de Velde and Julius Meier-Graefe, who helped him gain eminent contacts and commissions, thus contributing greatly to his renown abroad. Meier-Graefe also represented the artist at his Paris gallery La Maison Moderne.

Minne initially focused his sculptural oeuvre on the naked human form, influenced by the Gothic ideal of overly long figures, which he often portrayed kneeling or hugging themselves. From 1889, he focused especially on male youths, a theme which he elaborated in various forms, sizes and versions. During this intensely creative period in Brussels, he created his draft for Solidarity (for instance Cleveland Museum of Art) for the unexecuted Volders memorial around 1898, as well as a design for his work Fountain with Kneeling Boys, which was executed in various versions featuring differently shaped basins (for example La fontaine aux agenouillés, 1905–1906, Museum Folkwang, Essen). In 1899, he and several Symbolist painters founded the artists’ colony Latemse School in Sint-Martens-Latem, prompting the sculptor to move to the Ghent suburb.

Minne’s subsequent exhibition participations in Belgium, at the Berlin Secession and in Vienna earned him his international breakthrough. He became a corresponding member of the Vienna Secession. At the “VIII. Ausstellung” [8th Exhibition] of the Vienna Secession, held in 1900, the association dedicated an entire round room to the sculptor, which had been designed by Koloman Moser. Among the 14 presented works was the latest version of the Fountain with Kneeling Boys, which he had first presented in 1899. The base and the plaster casts of the five boys were created directly on site. Ludwig Hevesi commented: “No artist since the Middle Ages has created such a scrawny, bony, angular ascetic sculpture. These human figures […] are largely characterized by tubular bones and muscular atrophy.” Berta Zuckerkandl, too, was overcome with “[…] mixed emotions of disconcertment and admiration […] when entering the round hall, where sculptor MINNE exclusively presents his works.”

The works were provided by Meier-Graefe, who, after the end of the exhibition, only asked for the casting mold to be returned. The five casts remained in Vienna, and the figures were given to Carl Moll, Josef Hoffmann, Fritz Waerndorfer, Alfred Roller and the Bloch-Bauer Collection. Waerndorfer kept his figure in the ingle-nook of his villa, between Gustav Klimt’s paintings Orchard in the Evening (1899, private collection) and A Morning by the Pond (1899, Leopold Museum, Vienna). Along with Minne, the “VIII. Ausstellung” also featured the artists Jan Toorop, the Mackintoshs and Ferdinand Hodler, whose stylized lines created around 1900 would pave the way for the new “Stilkunst” style in Vienna. The radicalizing human depictions and androgynous figural ideal inspired not only Gustav Klimt but also decisively influenced early Austrian Expressionism, as espoused by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.

In 1902, Minne again showcased his works at the Vienna Secession: The exhibition known as “Beethovenausstellung” [“Beethoven Exhibition”] included four sculptures in the reading room, while the “XV. Ausstellung” [15th Exhibition] of the Vienna Secession featured Minne’s Georges Rodenbach Memorial (1899, Alter Beginenhof, Ghent).

The Galerie Miethke organized a presentation of Minne’s works in December 1905, and in 1906, showcased Moll’s cast of the Kneeling Boy in the exhibition “Alte und moderne Meister” [“Old and Modern Masters”] under the title Praying Boy. Moll further immortalized his Minne figure in his self-portrait In My Studio (1906, Vienna Academy of Fine Arts). Moreover, the Wiener Werkstätte presented a Kneeling Boy in 1906 in their showrooms at Neustiftgasse 32 as part of the exhibition “Der gedeckte Tisch” [“The Laid Table”]. In the room dedicated to the Wiener Werkstätte at the Internationale Kunst-Ausstellung [1907 Mannheim Jubilee Exhibition], Gustav Klimt exhibited three paintings, with two Kneeling Boys by Minne flanking his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907, Neue Galerie, New York). Among the eminent Viennese collectors of the sculptor’s works were Fritz Waerndorfer, the patron and co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte, as well as Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer and Erich Lederer.

In 1913, Minne was appointed to the Ghent Academy as a drawing teacher. Following the outbreak of World War I, he fled with his family to Wales, where he worked exclusively as a draftsman owing to a lack of sculpting materials. After the War, he returned to Ghent, and was able to resume his teaching assignment. George Minne received a knighthood in 1931, which was followed by several official commissions. He died on 20 February 1941 in Sint-Martens-Latem.

Literature and sources

  • Ludwig Hevesi: Aus der Sezession, in: Acht Jahre Sezession (März 1897–Juni 1905). Kritik – Polemik – Chronik, Vienna 1906, S. 288-293.
  • Marian Bisanz-Prakken: George Minne und die Wiener Moderne um 1900, Vienna 2011.
  • Inga Rossi-Schrimpf: George Minne. Das Frühwerk und seine Rezeption in Deutschland und Österreich bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg, Weimar 2012.
  • Georg Minne. (09/14/2020).
  • Julius Meier-Gräfe: Das plastische Ornament, in: Pan-Genossenschaft (Hg.): Pan, Heft 4 (1898/99).
  • N. N.: George Minne, in: Vereinigung bildender KünstlerInnen Wiener Secession (Hg.): Ver Sacrum. Mitteilungen der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs, 4. Jg., Heft 2 (1901), S. 31-38.