For Maillol: Art does not lie in the copying of nature

Aristide Maillol la femme a l’ombrelleAristide Maillol – La Femme a L’ombrelle. c.1895-1900, oil on canvas, 193x149cm.

French sculptor, painter and print-maker Aristide Joseph Bonaventure Maillol was born on December 8, 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer, Roussillon. He decided at an early age to become a painter and moved to Paris in 1881 to study art.  After several applications and several years of living in poverty, his enrollment to the École des Beaux-Arts was accepted in 1885. His early paintings show the influence of his contemporaries Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin. Gauguin encouraged his growing interest in decorative art, an interest that led Maillol to take up tapestry design.

  • In 1893 Maillol opened a tapestry workshop in Banyuls, producing works whose high technical and aesthetic quality gained him high recognition for renewing tapestry as an art form in France.
  • Two years later, he began making small terracotta sculptures in 1895, and within a few years his concentration on sculpture led to the abandonment of his work in tapestry.

In July 1896, Maillol married Clotilde Narcis, one of his employees at his tapestry workshop. Their only son, Lucian, was born that October. Maillol’s first major sculpture, A Seated Woman, was modeled after his wife. The first version (in the Museum of Modern Art, New York) was completed in 1902, and renamed La Méditerranée.

Maillol, believing that “art does not lie in the copying of nature“, produced a second, less naturalistic version of this work in 1905. 

He died in Banyuls at the age of 33, in an automobile accident on September 27, 1944, while driving home during a thunderstorm when the car in which he was a passenger; skidded off the road and rolled over.

A large collection of Maillol’s work is maintained at the Musée Maillol in Paris, which was established by Dina Vierny, Maillol’s model and platonic companion during the last 10 years of his life.

Three of his bronzes grace the grand staircase of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City: Summer (1910–11), Venus Without Arms (1920), and Kneeling Woman: Monument to Debussy (1950–55). The third is the artist’s only reference to music, created for a monument at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

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