SHEPHERD W & K GALLERIES European Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture
MINNE, George   1866-1941
20th Century
Belgian

KNEELING YOUTH, 1900

Dimensions: Height 29 1/2” (75 cm).

George Minne’s Fountain, a circle of five identical figures of the Kneeling Youth, was first exhibited in Vienna at the 8th Exhibition of the Secession in 1900. This exhibition, which displayed a total of fourteen sculptures by Minne, was the international breakthrough for the artist. The Kneeling Youth became an icon of modernism, influencing not only the Viennese artists Oscar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, but also later in the century Käthe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach, and Wilhelm Lehmbruck. After the exuberance of art nouveau, Minne introduced a new austerity and architectonic reduction that led sculpture from illustrative and narrative contents towards geometric abstraction.

The present plaster must have been created in close association with the piece in the Vienna Secession. The exhibited Fountain was cast in plaster. Only one photo of this original display of the Fountain exists, taken from the Magazine Ver Sacrum. It shows five figures in the same pose as the present one, that is with stretched out feet. The photo gives no clue how the figures were mounted on the flat surface of the fountain base.

There must have been a problem with balancing the figures early on, because the individual casts of the Kneeling Youth with stretched feet all attempt to deal with the weight distribution. A version in cast stone (formerly David Daniels collection) has an extended base at the rear. The present cast has a wedge-like base, slightly higher in the front. The same base can be seen in a cast in the Ghent Museum. In addition, the lower part of the body in the present cast is filled with plaster, clearly to weigh it down.

Soon after the Secession exhibition, Minne solved the problem. He set the figures on very large rectangular blocks and bent the feet over the rear edge of the support. This became the version he executed in marble in 1905 (Folkwang Museum, Essen), and in various media throughout the early 20th century, up to a new, even more stylized assembly of the five figures for a Fountain in Brussels and in Ghent, installed in the mid- 1930’s.

The search for a possible source of the early plasters leads to a friend of George Minne, the art critic Julius Meier-Graefe. Known to this day for his writings, he is little known as the owner of a shop in Paris, La Maison Moderne, where he sold not only draperies and jewelry, but also art works, e.g. by George Minne. The German scholar Ilse Dolinschek wrote, that Meier-Graefe owned the mold from which the five figures for the Fountain at the Secession exhibition were cast. She further reported that after the exhibition, Meier-Graefe donated the casts to members of the Secession, retaining only the mold. One of the recipients was Carl Moll, who proudly included a Kneeling Youth in the foreground of his Self-Portrait in the Studio (1906, Vienna, Academy). This Viennese production under the auspices of Meier-Graefe might also explain why two identical plaster casts (including the present one) recently appeared on the Viennese art market. It is thinkable that Meier-Graefe had more casts made, after the success of the exhibition, possibly for sale at his Maison Moderne. This enterprise, however, was short lived (1899-1903) since the Parisians were not ready yet to give up art nouveau. Meier-Graefe was a friend, supporter and admirer of George Minne, and an attempt at editing his sculptures would have been quite legitimate. Perhaps Minne’s version with bent feet stopped Meier-Graefe from further utilizing his mold.

References:

Sculpture from the David Daniels Collection, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1979/80, cat. no. 65.


Ilse Dolinschek, Die Bildhauerwerke in den Austellungen der Wiener Sezesion von 1898-1910, Munich , 1989,p.57.

Georg Minne en de kunst rond 1900, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, 1982, p. 24 ill. of Secession installation; p. 149 ill. of Ghent plaster with same base as present sculpture; p. 175 ill. of Carl Moll’s Self-Portrait; p. 153 ill. of Fountain at Folkwang Museum.