A hallmark of the Grohmann Museum - dedicated to depictions of labor and human achievement - is our collection of working figures. View captivating images of miners, steel workers, and more from
famous sculptors including Constantin Meunier, Frederic Remington and Max
Kalish, among others.

Forging a Sword (The Smith of Solingen) (1801/1899) by Wilhelm AlbermannGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

In 1895 Wilhelm Albermann’s Smith of Solingen was erected on a fountain at the market square in Solingen, Germany, which is known worldwide for its production of blades. Unfortunately, the fountain and the sculpture were destroyed by bombs in 1944.

However, the Grohmann Museum collection includes a small version of the sculpture—a maquette for the life-size piece that was lost in World War II. Here the Blacksmith of Solingen forges a sword blade with hammer and anvil.

Blacksmith of the 16th Century (1801/1899) by Adrien Etienne GaudezGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Adrien Etienne Gaudez was highly regarded for his figures of workers and was well-known throughout Europe in the latter half of the 19th century. Even when taken prisoner in Magdeburg, Germany in 1871, he continued his work during this time by creating a memorial for his fallen French comrades. Several French cities are home to his monuments and sculptures.

This blacksmith by Gaudez is clad in traditional dress of the 16th century. He holds a hot workpiece (likely a decorative element for a larger work) in his tongs and works to shape the piece with the precision afforded by a small hammer.

Forger (19th century) by Adrien Etienne GaudezGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, was the original blacksmith of mythology, whose Greek counterpart was known as Hephaestus. Many traditional depictions of blacksmiths over the centuries in both painting and sculpture include allusions to—or were patterned after—the myths of Vulcan at his forge.

The Forger is an idealized figure who embodies the mythological smith and invokes thoughts of Vulcan, clad only in breeches and apron. He attends to shaping the finer details of his workpiece with a hammer designed for peening.

Steel Worker I (1916) by Gerhard Adolf JanenschGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Gerhard Janensch created figures of blacksmiths, foundrymen, rolling mill workers, and steel workers. This figure happens to be that of a puddler. In traditional steelmaking, the puddler was responsible for creating the correct mix in the furnace to ensure that the iron or steel produced had the proper carbon content for workability.

The Steel Worker by Janensch is tending a furnace and observing the process of iron smelting. He will periodically take a sample of the molten metal with his ladle to examine the mix for quality and composition.

Railroad Worker (20th century) by Rudolf KaesbachGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Rudolf Kaesbach studied sculpture in Paris, Düsseldorf, Brussels, and Berlin. He was particularly well-known for his nude figures. Many of his works were exhibited at Munich’s Großen Deutschen Kunstausstellungen (Great German Art Exhibition) from 1939-1954.

Kaesbach’s Railroad Worker is as much a figure study as a depiction of hard work. Here, an idealized physical specimen connects two pieces of track by driving rivets into a connecting plate using his maul.

Carrier (1901/1999) by Max KalishGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Max Kalish was an American sculptor best known for his sculptures of laborers. Kalish’s work, including his Digger, Driller, Smith, and The Spirit of American Labor, glorifies the masculine form for its strength and control.

Kalish’s Carrier depicting a strong man toiling is a tribute to hard work and homage to the worker. Given his form and positioning, he is most likely carrying a sheet of glass or steel.

Two Men Pulling Rope (20th century) by Henri Louis LevasseurGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Henri Levasseur studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris and was member of Société des Artistes Français. He was famous for allegorical figures depicting hard work and effort. These figures were often highly detailed and dramatic views of toil, like that featured here.

These men may be pulling a load from underground or are perhaps mooring a boat; whatever is attached to the end of the rope requires great exertion.

Lumberman (1852) by Napoléon JacquesGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Napoléon Jacques studied in Paris and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, from 1833-1858. His figures were among the first realistic treatments of workers in bronze. Jacques was heavily influenced by the burgeoning school of realism championed by Gustave Courbet and others in mid-19th century France.

Jacques’ Lumberman is likely a railroad worker notching a railroad tie with a broad-edged hatchet. The notches are cut for the placement of tie plates on which the rails are attached.

Bending Steel Bar (20th century) by Adolf Müller-CrefeldGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Adolf Müller-Crefeld’s figures include those of dancers, athletes, and workers—individuals involved in activities from which he could sculpt dynamic forms of bodies in motion. He had an affinity for nudes, as he sought to show the power and grace of the human body.

Rather than demonstrating any sort of productive work, this figure is as much a study in the human form as it is a depiction of work. Clad only in a loin cloth, this ‘worker’ employs sheer physical force to wield human control over the material produced.

The Bronco Buster (1895) by Frederic RemingtonGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Frederic Remington enrolled in 1878 at Yale University, where he took a drawing course taught by John Niemeyer (1839 –1932). In 1881 he left school and traveled west, where he worked as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly. In 1895 he sculpted his Bronco Buster among other depictions of the American West. After dozens of castings by Henry-Bonnard and the Roman Bronze Company, the Bronco Buster became the most popular American bronze of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Agricultural work was fundamental to civilization, allowing humankind to cease a nomadic existence and settle in to a life working the soil. Therefore, it is not surprising to find many figures depicting agricultural workers since ancient times. And much domesticated farm work began with harnessing the power of livestock. The Bronco Buster continues in that tradition as he works to tame a wild horse he has saddled, armed with rope and quirt.

Iron Ore Miner from the Siegerland, Germany (1893) by Johann Friedrich ReuschGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Johann Friedrich Reusch was the son of a woodworker who learned early on how to create figures. As a young man, he studied at the Berlin Art Academy, where he had a sculpture studio. He was born in Siegen, Germany and later returned to create sculptures of the workers from his native surroundings. Among these were rolling mill workers and miners from northwest Germany.

Here we see a mining officer surveying and in search of high-quality raw material. He has freed an ore sample from the surrounding rock using his pick. He pauses to closely examines the sample for quality.

Stone Breaker (early 20th century) by Jean VerschneiderGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Jean Verschneider was a student of the sculptors Jacques Perrin and Jean-Antoine Injalbert. He exhibited at the salons of the Société des Artistes Français in Paris and became a member of the group in 1908. His specialty was creating bronze sculptures in Art Deco style.

This sculpture is another figure study that is less about the work process than it is about the extreme physical toil required by many occupations. The ideal masculine figure works to break stone free from a rocky outcropping.

Miner (19th century) by Charles Octave LevyGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Charles Octave Lévy was a student of Armand Toussaint (1806 – 1862) and became a well-known French sculptor in his own right. In 1873 he began exhibiting his works in the many galleries and salons around Paris and in 1889 he won third prize at the Paris Salon. He specialized in idealized treatments of workers and human triumph.

Levy’s Miner depicts hard work as a noble activity carried out by a prideful worker. Armed with pickaxe and Davy safety lamp, he is a tribute to his profession.

Resting Puddler (1890) by Constantin-Emile MeunierGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Constantin-Emile Meunier is unquestionably the most important 19th century Belgian artist dealing with the subject of work. Both a painter and sculptor, he depicted the work and living conditions of Belgian miners and metalworkers as no one else had. It was in the late 1880s, while travelling in the Belgian industrial district of the Borinage, that his attention was drawn to these themes. From that point on, he devoted his energy and creativity to portraying his industrial impressions in paintings and sculptures.

The Resting Puddler is perhaps Meunier’s best-known sculpture of work. The puddler rests following a period of strenuous work, but the effects of the effort and strain surface in the expression on the man’s face.

Blacksmith (1897) by Gerhard Adolf JanenschGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Gerhard Janensch originally produced this blacksmith in life-size for the Great Berlin Art Exhibition of 1897. The original piece stood atop a bell, hence he is a bell founder.

On the original, a verse from Friedrich Schiller’s famous Song of the Bell was inscribed: From the heated brow – sweat must freely flow. Though the work may praise the Master, the blessing comes from higher. A fitting bit of prose as the Blacksmith pauses from his work to mop sweat from his brow while his hammer rests at his feet.

Mill Worker with Tongs (1904) by Clemens BuscherGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Clemens Buscher was a German sculptor who studied at Royal Art Academy in Munich and became Professor at Düsseldorf School of Applied Arts in 1898. He created numerous large works for public places, among them monuments depicting German Emperor Wilhelm I at Mühlheim on the Ruhr and Bochum.

Buscher’s rolling mill worker poses with his tongs used to handle hot billets from the mill. His hand rests in the belt of his leather apron while at his feet lies a billet hoist chain.

Man with Scythe - Quitting Time (ca. 1900) by Bruno KruseGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1855, sculptor and metalworker Bruno Kruse attended the Berlin Sculpture School as a young man. He was later commissioned to create several monuments for public spaces.

Inscribed FEIERABEND, or End of the Workday, this figure is at once a celebration of work, the human spirit, and a break from toil. The mower stands in front of a sheaf of wheat bundled and standing to dry. He holds his scythe while signaling to his fellow workers (or praising the heavens above) that their long workday is done.

The Boat Haulers (ca. 1920) by Victor DemanetGrohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering

Victor Demanet, a student of Constantin Meunier, is known for his sculptures that depict powerful human effort and exertion. The Boat Haulers is a typical example of his expressive style.

Perhaps the Boat Haulers are pulling a barge on a tow path. They may also be mooring a large vessel along the shore. In any event, they exert great effort on the rope to accomplish their objective.

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