Constant Permeke is known primarily as the painter who, with powerful, expressive forms evokes an image of the harsh life of peasants, farmworkers and fishermen in Flanders during the interbellum. But he also made paintings and drawings of the female nude during that period. In his sculptures, his preference was for the human figure, which he depicted very expressively, as with this Niobe.
Niobe is based on a story from Greek mythology. This queen of Thebes commands her subjects to worship her instead of the goddess Leto. She felt superior to Leto because she had fourteen children and the goddess only two. But she was punished for her arrogance: all fourteen of her children were slain by Leto’s children.
In his sculpture, Permeke expresses the immense grief of a woman who loses her children. In despair, Niobe has thrown herself to the ground. But the theme also gives him the opportunity to show the beauty of the female nude, in an expressive pose and with the same, characteristic sturdy proportions as the figures in his paintings.