L'Été belongs to a group of four life-size female figures that Maillol created between 1910 and 1912 for the renowned Russian art collector, Ivan Morosov. Commissioned to adorn the corners of a neoclassical music room in Morosov's Moscow villa, the quartet consists of the present work, an abundant representation of summer; a lithe, adolescent allegory of spring; Flora, the Roman goddess of vernal blossoming; and Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees (fig. 1). Although commonly known as Les Saisons, suggesting the traditional allegorical depiction of the four seasons, Linda Kramer has asserted that the sculptures should be seen more specifically as a response to the suite of murals depicting the myth of Psyche that Maurice Denis painted for Morosov's room in 1906. Echoing Psyche's mythical transformation from human to immortal, the sculptures, according to Kramer, can be divided into two pairs of women, each pair juxtaposing mortal and divine beauty. Further explicating this theme, she wrote:
"The fragile blossoms of spring are more likely to have been portrayed by the delicate Flora, the Roman goddess of that flowering season, and by the slim adolescent mortal, Spring. The fullness of the harvest seems more suited to Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees, and the voluptuous figure of Summer [the present sculpture], a ripe young woman at the height of fecundity. In either case... these figures represent the luscious flowering beauty that Maillol found the most attractive aspect of both young women and nature, while also offering him the opportunity to associate his ideal of feminine beauty with that of goddesses" (Aristide Maillol: Pioneer of Modern Sculpture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, doctoral dissertation, 2000, pp. 155-56).
Maillol's thematic fusion of divine and mortal beauty in Les Saisons also mirrors his artistic process at the turn of the century; his mix of direct observation from nature with a selective adoption of formal conventions from classical antiquity is particularly evident in the pairing of L'Été and Pomone. Both statues were modeled in part after young Catalan women from the artist's native Banyuls, but their rigid poses, voluptuous curves, and marked contrapposto highlight the sculptor's highly stylized and individual incorporation of ancient art into his oeuvre. The sculptor had been an avid student of ancient Greek and Egyptian forms since 1907, visiting the classical galleries at the Louvre and producing works such as brightly colored faence vases that he decorated with dancing figures draped in clothing reminiscent of the classicizing costumes worn by the American dancer Isadora Duncan. Most importantly, Maillol accompanied Count Henry Kessler to Greece and Italy in the spring of 1908, where the two men explored ruins at sites including Delphi, Olympia, Athens, and Pompeii. The trip affirmed Maillol's conviction that the culture of ancient Greece was his rightful artistic inheritance, the proof of which he located in the landscape itself. Remarking on the topographic similarities between southern France and Greece, Maillol wrote: "On arriving, I thought I had rediscovered Banyuls! There were the same houses, the same windmill. I ascertained that my country had the same design as Greece. When going to Delphi we descended to Itea, I thought I was seeing the Bay of Banyuls and its mountains, larger, but with similar graceful contours" (quoted in ibid., p. 148).
As L'Été and Pomone demonstrate, Maillol's espousal of ancient Greek stylistic attributes is more a loose interpretation of classicizing elements than a faithful rendering of historical reality. Both sculptures depict fertile young women. However, the sculptor differentiates between deity and mortal by giving the goddess Pomona a rigidly frontal figure reminiscent of an archaic Greek kore; her gesture of offering an apple in each hand, which symbolizes the fecundity of both earth and women, visually recalls the closed, symmetrical forms of ancient Hellenic and Egyptian sculptures. By contrast L'Été's rounded hip, open stance, and tilted head lend her figure a higher degree of realism and thus are more suggestive of living mortal flesh. In both cases, the figure's nudity and bent right knee defy the sculptural conventions that the sculptor would have encountered firsthand in his travels with Kessler; the archaizing elements reinforce Maillol's interpretation of antique sculpture as an inheritance to be appropriated and adapted into a modern French style. His standard of historical authenticity evolved from a nostalgic relationship with this cultural heritage, as evidenced by his creation of a fragmented "relic" of L'Été without head or arms (fig. 2). This torso was perhaps an effort to test the "accuracy" of his work by executing it as a convincing artifact before realizing the final version.
The beautifully fleshy curves and gentle pose of the present nude also made an impression on Renoir, who began work on his similar Venus Victrix (fig. 3) as a freestanding sculpture and in a relief (1914; Musée d'Orsay, Paris) shortly after Maillol completed Les Saisons. Renoir reversed the position of the arms, placing the goddess' discarded robes in her left hand and the apple, the sign of her victory, in the right. Thus positioned, she adopts the guise of a bather, one of the chief themes in Renoir's oeuvre. Maillol took inspiration from Renoir for his own treatment of the nude. For his part, Renoir demonstrated his admiration for his friend Maillol by purchasing his decorative works, including a ceramic indoor fountain surrounded by nudes in 1902, and posing for a portrait bust in 1906, in the process of which Renoir observed with fascination Maillol's skill in modeling from life. When Renoir, crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, searched for a pair of able hands to execute sculptures under his direction, Maillol recommended his own assistant, Richard Guino, thus establishing a stylistic bridge between the two elder sculptors. Maillol also advised the young sculptor, Louis Morel, who would later become Renoir's second sculptural assistant, to "look at Renoir's nudes: that's sculpture. You need look no farther" (quoted in ibid., p. 165). Indeed, Maillol and Renoir shared a close and mutually influential artistic relationship, which once prompted Renoir to exclaim: "Maillol is one of the world's greatest sculptors. If the word genius, which is so often misapplied today, has any meaning, this is it. Yes, Maillol is a genius, and one would have to be either a fool or a charlatan not to recognize it" (quoted in G. Waldemar, Aristide Maillol, Neuchtel, 1965, p. 213).
(fig. 1) Maillol, Pomone, 1910-1912, The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
(fig. 2) Maillol, Le Torse de l'Été, 1910-1912, location unknown.
(fig. 3) Renoir, Venus Victrix, 1913-1915, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais, Paris