Woman of the People


Constantin Emile Meunier
Etterbeek 1831 - Ixelles 1905
71 x 47 x 38 cm
Inventory Number 1985

On 4 March 1887, disaster struck at the coalmine of La Boule in the Borinage region of Hainaut. A methane explosion ripped through the shafts killing over a hundred miners. The accident would have a profound impact on the oeuvre of Constantin Emile Meunier. He witnessed first hand how the bodies of dead miners were brought to the surface and laid side by side in long rows in a hall of the colliery. He captured the scene in a series of drawings, which he subsequently worked out in sculptures. Woman of the People is an exceptional piece in Meunier's oeuvre. Whereas usually he represented miners and their families as heroes rather than victims, she exudes a sense of powerlessness and dejection. Her emaciated face is marked by a life of misery and sadness, and her hand presses against her bosom in a gesture of despair.

Social awareness

In a period of social tension and sweeping change, Meunier put the working classes at the centre of his art. In Woman of the People, he succeeded wonderfully well in expressing the tragic side of working-class life. As his contemporary, the poet Emile Verharen, put it: “With Meunier, the worker is no longer a vague, distant figure. He has entered the city, settled in the art salons and occupied a place in museums.”

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