Lynn Pudles explains the background of Minne’s Kneeling Youth:
“Among Minne’s single figures, the most famous is that of The Kneeling Youth, of which there were several versions. In each, Minne depicted a nude, kneeling adolescent with his head bent down and his arms wrapped tightly around his body, creating a sense of physical and psychological self-enclosure….
The kneeling motif found in these sculptures is one that recurred throughout Minne’s work. He did nearly a dozen variations on The Kneeling Youth.”
“[I]n some of Minne’s works the expression of isolation is often made more emphatic by the replication of his figures. In The Fountain of the Kneeling Youths, the self-enclosure, self-absorption, and aloneness of the figure is amplified by its fivefold repetition. Furthermore, the self-enclosure and inward-directedness of each figure is paralleled and reinforced by the self-enclosure and inward-directedness of the entire sculpture. In contrast to Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, where one may penetrate and interact with the figures, whose expressions and postures open up to the outside, Minne’s five figures are closed and directed inward, turning their backs to the viewer and shutting him out.
The expression of mood predominates in the work; the physicality of the bodies is minimized. Attenuated, flattened, compressed, and abstracted, seemingly conceived not in volume but in line, the frail figures appear dematerialized. Our attention is directed from the physical to the spiritual, the state of mind or the idea that the figures embody. Above all, is the expression of self-absorption and interiority. These are matched by a sense of ennui and passivity, a languor bringing to mind [Maurice] Maeterlinck’s poems in Serres chaudes, filled with images of passivity and weariness.
Karel Van de Woestihne, the Flemish Symbolist poet, called Minne’s sculpture ‘the Narcissus Fountain.’ The title seems appropriate for these self-embracing youths, gazing wistfully at the pool of water below. Each one looks downward into the pool, directly at that spot where his reflection would be. Languid and frail, they recall the dreamy, adolescent Narcissuses who pine away in the pages of Symbolist poetry: …‘Oh brothers! Sad lilies, I languish from beauty…solitude sadly encloses me. As a paragon of self-contemplation and introversion, Narcissus was widely taken up by the Symbolists, his self-absorption reflects their subjective, inward-turning attitude.”
Lynne Pudles, “The Symbolist Work of Georges Minne,” Art Journal, vol. 45, no. 2 (Summer 1985): 121-2 & 126.
Fountain of Kneeling Youths, c. 1905 (plaster, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent)