Dina Vierny has cofirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
Maillol modeled this life-sized head of a woman around 1930 and it appears at in a Brassaï photograph of Maillol's studio at Marly-le-Roi taken in the late months of 1932 (fig. 1). The firm, upturned head with its pronounced chin, aquiline nose, perfectly proportioned eyes and delicately arched eyebrows, framed by a crown of carefully articulated hair, evokes the portrait heads of classical Greek sculpture. It suggests the timeless features of the Venus de Milo, the famous ancient Greek figure by Alexandros of Antioch-on-the-Meander that had enchanted Maillol in the Louvre. Maillol preferred to use the robust country girls of Banyuls-sur-Mer as models, rather than those available to him in Paris; as he told his first biographer, Judith Cladel: "At home in Banyuls, there are three hundred Venus de Milos. The kores are living: they are the girls that the Greeks saw in the streets" (quoted in L.K. Kramer, Aristide Maillol (1861-1944): Pioneer of Modern Sculpture, Doctoral Dissertation, New York University, 2000, p. 235).
In 1930 Maillol was dividing his time between his studio in Marly-le-Roi on the outskirts of Paris and Banyuls-sur-Mer, the village in southern France where he was born. He had hired a new model, a voluptuous young girl named Lucille Passavant. It is uncertain if this head is actually meant as a portrait of Passavant; Maillol fell passionately in love with her for a short time and she may have served as the inspiration for it. Another possibility for the identity of the sitter would be a Madame Robin, whom Maillol recalled sculpting in stone around the same time (see H. Frère, Conversations de Maillol, Geneva, 1956). In any case, the youthful, sublime face of Tête de Femme is the representation of an archetypal female, a woman who appears steadfast, chaste and tranquil. Maillol generally had little interest in modeling the exact likeness of an individual; instead he sought to create an idealized head and features which displays character through its serenity and harmony. He once remarked: "I do not make portraits, I make heads in which I try to give the impression of the whole" (quoted in ibid., 2000, p. 128).
While Maillol admired ancient Greek sculpture, he did not seek to merely recreate or emulate it. This carved head of a woman exudes more vitality than the static heads of ancient sculpture; the liveliness expressed by the elongated neck, the faint smile on her lips and the open-eyed, upward gaze. While Maillol's kindred spirit was Renoir, the one painter he appreciated most was Cézanne. Maillol conceived his work in terms of volume and geometric form, as Cézanne had done in his painting. "What I am after," Maillol explained, "is architecture and volume. Sculpture is architecture, is equilibrium of masses. This architectural aspect is hard to achieve. I endeavor to obtain it as did Polycletus [sic]. My point of departure is always a geometric form--square, lozenge, triangle--because those are the shapes which stand up best in space" (quoted in Aristide Maillol: 1861-1944, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1975, p.17). Tête de femme subtly manifests this sense of equilibrium, purity of line and the geometric perfection of volume.
(fig. 1) Maillol's studio at Marly-le-Roi in Fall 1932, with Tete de femme at lower right. Photograph by Brassaï. BARCODE 25010855