- Early-14th-century sculpture developed from Brabant regional traditions, which showed a marked affinity for the grotesque (gargoyles on Notre-Dame de la Chapelle). Increased realism became apparent from the mid-14th century. The growth of Brussels spawned a demand for large-scale secular sculpture and city authorities began to commission works. Brussels achieved prominence as a center in the 15th century. Claus Sluter introduced an original naturalism, exemplified by the eight figures of prophets together with five consoles, all that remain from the façade decoration of the Hôtel de Ville (ca. 1404-1405) that have been attributed to the Master of Hakendover. Collaboration between sculptors and painters was frequent and countless elaborately carved and painted wooden altarpieces were completed. The reredos was a Brabant specialty. Sculptors in Brussels concentrated on commissioned pieces rather than works for the open market.In the early 1500s, classical motifs were gradually introduced amid the profusion of Gothic detail. Jan Mone (ca. 1480-ca. 1459), sculptor to Emperor Charles V, carved alabaster altarpieces for the chapel of the Coudenberg Palace (1538-1541), now in the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule. The wars of religion led to emigration of sculptors and stagnation in production. A rebuilding and redecoration campaign began under Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, which continued through the 17th century. Single statues began to appear while local sculpture retained its characteristics of realism and naturalism. Jérôme Duquesnoy the elder crafted Manneken-Pis. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is credited with introducing the baroque style. The slackening economy of the late 16th century meant patronage became rarer although the court continued as an important source for commissions.An abundance of woodcarvings appeared in the 18th century. Just prior to the French Revolution, sculptors, increasingly involved in secular projects, adopted the strict neoclassical style, thereby largely eliminating figurative elements. The turmoil of the years 1790-1815 led to a loss of religious patronage. Neoclassicism remained dominant in the first half of the 19th century. Gilles-Lambert Godecharle (1750-1835) remains the best known, notably his models for the pediments of the Château royal de Laeken and the Palais de la Nation. French expatriates François Rude (1784-1855) and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) exerted a strong influence. Rodin spent the years 1870 to 1877 largely in Brussels where he executed public monuments but also portrait busts (sculptor Paul de Vigne ). The Geefs family rose to prominence in the 1830s.Belgian independence (1830) saw a gradual increase in state promotion, including the erection of patriotic monuments. The mid-19th century has been described as an era of statuemania, with sculpting of religiously inspired, devout neo-Gothic or heroic "knight"-style statues of subjects from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Musée d'Art moderne purchased directly from artists or at salons. The bourgeoisie followed state patronage. Charles-Auguste Fraikin (1817-1893) became famous for his nudes (L'amour captif, Captive love ).Use of bronze allowed sculptors to move away from strict neoclassical forms toward more mobile shapes and malleable surfaces. The Compagnie des Bronzes, a firm much employed by artists, revived bronze-casting techniques in the 1870s. The Italian Renaissance became a frequent source of inspiration, notably for Julien Dillens, Pierre-Charles vander Stappen, and Thomas Vinçotte (1850-1925) (Giotto ).Brussels became a major center of production in the last 20 years of the 19th century, promoted by groups such as Les XX. Constantin Meunier and Jef Lambeaux (1852-1908) achieved particular prominence. During the years that art nouveau flourished, sculptors became increasingly interested in the decorative aspects of carving and they often integrated natural elements, such as ivory from the Congo, into their works.Auguste Rodin's loose modeling technique became a preeminent source of inspiration for young Belgian artists of the early 20th century, notably Rik Wouters. George Minne developed a unique style akin to symbolist trends and Oscar Jespers (1887-1970) and Joseph Cantré (1890-1957), who was known for his medal art, represented expressionist concepts.The internationalism displayed at the Brussels World's Fair of 1958 led many sculptors to abandon traditional styles and both follow and set cosmopolitan trends. Pol Bury (1922- ) produced kinetic works beginning in the 1950s. Marcel Broodhaers adapted forms of pop art, conceptual art, and performance art to critique the Belgian art scene. Since the 1980s artists have diversified both concepts and materials, which have led them to move further beyond reality.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.