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Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

Baigneuse debout sans draperie

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
Baigneuse debout sans draperie
signed with monogram 'M' (on the top of the base); numbered '2/6' (on the side of the base); inscribed with foundry mark 'Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris.' (on the back of the base)
bronze with green and brown patina
Height: 30¾ in. (78.1 cm.)
Conceived in 1900 and cast before 1914
Perls Galleries, New York.
Private collection, Switzerland; sale, Christie's, London, 27 June 1994, lot 20.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
W. George, Aristide Maillol et l'âme de la sculpture, Neuchâtel, 1977, no. 133, p. 246 (another version illustrated, p. 133).
B. Lorquin, Aristide Maillol, London, 1995, p. 196 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 36).

Lot Essay

During the early 1890s Maillol was mainly involved in easel painting, printmaking and designing tapestries. He was affiliated with the young followers of Paul Gauguin who called themselves "Les Nabis", and like them he sought to explore the decorative possibilities in modern art. Emulating the example of Gauguin, Maillol carved some reliefs and statuettes in wood, but he did not turn to sculpture as his primary means of expression until 1898, when a chronic eye inflammation caused him to close his tapestry workshop. He began to model clothed and nude female figures in clay and terracotta. Maillol displayed in these earliest efforts his characteristic classical manner, in which he deliberately eschewed the emotional subjects and dramatic movement seen in the sculpture of Rodin, which was then in vogue. He instead chose poses of simplicity, stillness and calm, in which he refrained from outward expressive display. In contrast to the tactile and refractive faceting found in Rodin's sculpture, Maillol favored smooth, plain surfaces that reflected light more softly.

Maillol's first sculptures of the female figure were relatively small, table-top statuettes less than a foot tall. In 1899-1900 be began to model standing bathers at more than double this height. He based two of these nudes on figures he had carved in wood, one with a bit of drapery wrapped around one arm and falling down her back (fig. 1) and another "with the bearing of an Indo-Chinese idol, from a piece of golden yellow wood," as Judith Cladel has described, "an adorable standing bather, full bodied and delicate, polished like ivory, whose arm raised over her shoulder holds a cloth that flows down her back and curls around her ankle like a charmed serpent" (quoted in L. Kramer, Aristide Maillol: Pioneer of Modern Sculpture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University doctoral dissertation, 2000, p. 84; fig. 2, another cast illustrated). From the latter figure Maillol derived the present sculpture, which he modeled sans draperie. This was a notable development, as Bernard Lorquin has pointed out:

"With its raised right arm, this figure exemplifies Maillol's fascination with the idea of unveiling the female body, of moving beyond rendering drapery to rendering pure proportions. He continued his exploration of the female body, making it the central theme of his oeuvre. While clothes were a link to historicity, changing tastes in fashion, specific periods, the nude seemed to point the way to a timelessness beyond historical references. Maillol began to study the whole range of the human body's gesture, starting with standing figures and then moving on to seated, crouching, recumbent bodies, he tested each position from one sculpture to the next. Before long he was creating masterpieces of balance and perfection. His production was rarely again to attain the intensity it had in this dazzling, deeply moving moment in the genesis of his oeuvre" (op. cit., pp. 38-39).
The serene and static art of the Egyptians appealed to Maillol, as it did to Gauguin, and both artists were drawn to the Khmer sculpture that had been shown at the Universal Expositions in Paris in 1889 and 1900. Maillol also admired the art of the Indian sub-continent; Kramer has written, "The full body type that has come to be identified with the bodies of many of Maillol's statues of women is likely to have been inspired in part by the voluptuous figures of those found in ancient Indian sculpture (op. cit., p. 84). All of these diverse influences melded with the fundamental underpinning of Maillol's art, the source of his Mediterranean outlook on beauty and form--his profound love for the art of classical Greece. Here he differed from Gauguin, who, apart from borrowing a pose now and then from postcards of the Parthenon friezes, took relatively little inspiration from Greek art. Maillol was especially drawn to Hellenic sculpture of the archaic period, which he favored over the more naturalistic depiction of the human body seen in celebrated marble sculptures of the fifth century B.C. "I prefer the primitive art of Olympus to that of the Parthenon... " he wrote. "It is the most beautiful thing that I have seen; it is more beautiful than anything else in the world. It is an art of synthesis, a higher art than ours today, which seeks to represent the human flesh. If I had lived in the VIth century I should have found happiness in working with those men" (quoted in J. Rewald, Maillol, London, 1939, p. 17).

Maillol wrote these words following his first trip to Greece in the spring of 1908, accompanied by his patron Count Harry Kessler, who owned one of the early wooden bathers (the subject seen in its bronze version, fig. 2) in his extensive collection of the sculptor's work. Maillol had been a frequent visitor to classical galleries in the Louvre, and he already possessed a deep understanding of the Greek art of antiquity. The journey to Greece, which allowed him to see classical sculpture in its original surroundings amid the broader context of Mediterranean culture, served more as a confirmation of a path already chosen than as an initiation into new way of seeing.

The archaic Greek manner is clearly observable in the present sculpture. Maillol posed his young model in a simple upright stance, legs together, with one arm raised in an inviting yet demure gesture. While the bather is nude and attractively proportioned, she possesses a maidenly innocence and purity that banishes any suggestion of eroticism or desire. John Rewald has written: "To celebrate the human body, particularly the feminine body, seems to have been Maillol's only aim. He did this in a style from which all grandiloquence is absent, a style almost earthbound and grave. The absence of movement, however, is compensated by a tenderness and charm distinctly his own; and while all agitation is foreign to his art, there is in his work... such quiet grace and warm feeling that they never appear inanimate. He has achieved a peculiar balance between a firmness of forms which appear eternal and a sensitivity of expression--even sensuousness--which seems forever quivering and alive" (ibid., pp. 6-7).

Artist photo:
Aristide Maillol, 1907.

(fig. 1) Aristide Maillol, Baigneuse debout, wood, circa 1899, placed in front of a Maillol tapestry. Formerly in the collection of Prince Antoine Bibesco. Photo Hypérion.

(fig. 2) Aristide Maillol, Baigneuse debout au bra levé, bronze, 1900. Musée Maillol, Fondation Dina Vierny, Paris.

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