Dina Vierny has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
This sculpture is one of a series of nymphs that Maillol executed in the early 1930s, in preparation for the important sculpture Les trois nymphes, which was first exhibited in 1937 at the Petit Palais, Paris (fig. 1). The first figure Maillol completed was the central standing nymph. The artist then began working on the two lateral figures using his maid Marie as the model. The group was Maillol's hommage to youth. He thought of titling the work Les trois grâces, making reference to the painting of Raphael, but realized that the figures were too physically imposing for this subject.
In 1939, writing shortly after the unveiling of Les trois nymphes, John Rewald observed: "In these later works the sculptor has moved further and further away from the type of Catalan woman whom we find in his 'Mediterranean', in 'Night' and in 'Action in Chains,' with broad hips, straight legs, heavy arms and swelling breasts: a well-developed body with broad shoulders. Now in his old age the sculptor's imagination dwells rather on the figures of very young girls, radiant with youth and freshness, full of lyrical grace and a sensual poetic feeling that youth which he extolls in the wonderful group of the three young girls, the 'Nymphs,' a recent work in which is summed up all his knowledge and all his feeling" (in Maillol, London, 1939, p. 22).
Many of the studies for Les trois nymphes were done without arms, as seen here. Maillol typically began a figure by modeling the torso, and only when he was satisfied with this did he work on the head and limbs. Waldemar George writes that Maillol's torsos "...are organisms and are perhaps more complete than anatomies which imitate nature with its flaws, failings, and imperfections" (in Aristide Maillol et l'âme de la sculpture, Neuchâtel, 1977, p. 245). Maillol appreciated the famous Venus de Milo in the Louvre all the more because it was preserved without its arms, which he felt "would add nothing to its beauty; on the contrary they would probably detract from it" (quoted in B. Lorquin, op. cit., p. 112).
Although the outward physical features of Maillol's female subjects may have evolved over time, the essential feminine qualities that the sculptor expressed remained constant. The novelist and critic Octave Mirbeau wrote in 1905: It is the same woman; but every time, as in real life, she is a new and different woman. The woman of Maillol's creation is always chaste, full of ardour, and magnificent. She can give us the conception of strength, of the perfection of the human body, because she presents us with the conception of life, because she is life itself. She is woman created by Maillol; she is his contribution to the sculpture of today. This new treasure of admirable, living forms is offered by a great, virile and sensitive artist to the art of France and of the world" (in J. Rewald, op. cit.).
(fig. 1) Aristide Maillol, Les trois Nymphes, 1930-1937. Le Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.