Enfant agenouillé signed 'Georges Minne' (on left side of sculpture base) bronze on a marble plinth 113 x 66.5 x 25cm (44 1/2 x 26 3/16 x 9 3/16in excluding base)
George Minnes contemporaries were struck by the modernity of his sculptures. Julius Meier-Graefe described Minne as one of the unrecognised innovators of our time i, while Maeterlinck proclaimed his sculpture as the first of our new age.ii Central to the notion of Minnes modernity was his investigation of internal psychological and spiritual life, which was fundamentally informed by Freuds analysis of the subconscious. It was this interest in the subconscious, which bought Minne into contact with the Belgian literary Symbolists, Le Roy, Leberghe and Maeterlinck, at Laethem-Saint-Martin in 1897. Maeterlinck made their shared agenda clear when he declared that the work of genius is nothing but the work of the unconscious. iii
As the exaggerated proportions of Enfant agenouillé illustrate, Minne sacrificed realism, to allow himself the freedom to explore symbolist and expressive possibilities through simplified forms. Minnes contemporary Le Roy praised Minnes ability to suggest powerful emotions without a narrative, writing his art, is above all, suggestion do not explain their subject; they allow it to be felt, their mysticism takes hold of us, they obsess us by the imprecision of mystery and conquer us by gripping with unresolved eloquence. iv Instead Minne relied on the viewers ability to recognise common archetypes. Indeed by depicting the figure with a bowed head and arms wrapped around his chest, Minne makes it impossible for the observer to make eye contact with the sculpture and so the artist creates emotions of grief, shame, melancholy, fragility and despair. Key to understanding the sentiment behind Enfant agenouillé is Freuds notion of ascetism that is the denial and repression of desire. Freud observed this tendency in adolescents, who in a bid to deny sexual desire became introspective.
Enfant agenouillé evolved from Minnes sketches, dating from the mid 1890s of a young farm boy, which the artist metamorphosed into an angular aesthetic figure. Key in the transition from drawing to the fully realised sculpture Enfant agenouillé was Minnes sculpture of St. John the Baptist depicted kneeling (1895). Minnes depiction of the Saint kneeling was intended to suggest the burden of St. Johns mission. When seen as a unified whole, the sketches, sculpture of St. John and Enfant agenouillé reveal the significance of the kneeling pose to Minne. It is a gesture which conjures emotions of spirituality and fragility, echoing the complexities of human psychological and spiritual life.
Minnes Enfant agenouillé exists in bronze, marble and plaster. However the version illustrated here, is rendered unique by the rich greeny gold patina, which was specifically commissioned by the original purchaser and brings to life the sculptural planes. Despite the inherent introspective nature of the sculpture, as a composition it proved admirably suitable for the public sphere. Indeed five similar figures adorn a fountain known as La Fountaine des Agenouilles in Brussels.
Minnes exploration of the unconscious through sculpture can be convincingly compared to Rodins powerful physiological investigations in works such as The Thinker. Indeed both artists aimed to penetrate the superficial and reveal an inner physiological truth. However where Rodins sculptures are arguably sensuous and extrovert, Minnes are sober and introspective but none the less powerful.
i. M. Botwinick, Belgian Art, The Brooklyn Museum, (New York, 1980) p. 58. ii. Ibid. iii. Ibid. iv. Ibid.