The late Dina Vierny confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Maillol modeled this noble and stately female nude in 1921, during a period of exceptional productivity that succeeded the fallow war years. Within the conservative cultural milieu of the post-war rappel à l’ordre, the timeless, classicizing effect of Maillol’s figures became a political asset, viewed as the assertion of a distinctly Gallic cultural tradition. In rapid succession, the sculptor received commissions from three French towns–Céret, Elne, and Port Vendres–for war memorials to honor their fallen soldiers. By early 1921, the first two of these were well underway, and Maillol had also resumed his labors on a monument to Cézanne, his great Provençal predecessor, that the city of Aix had contracted before the war. Hoping to receive next a coveted commission from the French State itself, Maillol began work on an allegorical representation of the river Seine, which he exhibited to acclaim at the 1921 Salon d’Automne.
The present Baigneuse sans draperie is a close variant on the figure that Maillol produced for the Salon, his first contribution to an official State exhibition in nearly a decade. The version entitled La Seine depicts the statuesque maiden–her full, voluptuous forms embodying the fertility of the French countryside–in the process of disrobing, as though preparing to enter the eponymous river. She lifts her right hand to catch hold of a swath of drapery that cascades from her shoulder, while her left hand grasps another corner of the garment at her hip. In the present sculpture, Maillol has omitted this fall of cloth, stripping the figure of its allegorical and narrative content to reveal its formal, geometric underpinnings. The lightly flexed left hand now serves to emphasize the graceful arc of the raised left hip, while the bent right arm creates a triangular shape that balances the subtle shift of weight onto the opposite leg.
Expressing the beauty of the female form in highly distilled, almost abstract terms, Baigneuse sans draperie represents a key sculpture in Maillol’s ongoing effort to fuse the iconographic traditions of antiquity with the radical formal purity of the modernist project. Eschewing the scrupulous naturalism of the High Classical moment, Maillol has drawn inspiration from the stylizations and simplifications of the earlier Severe Style–most notably, the statuary from the temple of Zeus at Olympia, visible behind the artist in a photograph taken during his transformative trip to Greece in 1908. “I prefer the primitive art of Olympus to that of the Parthenon,” he confirmed. “It is an art of synthesis, a higher art than ours today, which seeks to represent human flesh” (quoted in J. Rewald, Maillol, London, 1939, p. 17).