Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED NEW YORK COLLECTION
Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

La nuit, première état

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
La nuit, première état
signed with the monogram (on the underside of the left thigh), numbered and inscribed with the foundry mark '4/6 E.GODARD Fondeur PARIS' (on the back of the base)
bronze with black patina
Height: 45¾ in. (116.2 cm.)
Conceived in 1902 and cast at a later date in a numbered edition of six plus four épreuvres d'artiste and two casts hors commerce
The artist's estate.
Jeffery H. Loria & Co., Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner on 28 August 1995.
J. Rewald, Maillol, London, 1939 (the plaster cast illustrated pl. 56).
W. George, Aristide Maillol et l'âme de la sculpture, Paris, 1977, p. 154 (another cast illustrated).
B. Lorquin, Aristide Maillol, New York, 1995, p. 68 (another cast illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Olivier Lorquin has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

La nuit was one of the earliest of Aristide Maillol's sculptural compositions, originally conceived in 1902. This sculpture perfectly demonstrates Maillol's ability to compress concepts and beauty into a single figure. Indeed, for the rest of his career, he would be increasingly associated with his use of the pared-back female form as a vehicle for expression, as is the case here. Crouching, her head resting on her arms which are themselves on her knees, the woman in La nuit appears to be sleeping. Certainly, the fact that her face is hidden from view and is turned down, creating a sense of interiority, adds to the notion that this sculpture somehow embodies, rather than merely represents, the night. This is a metaphor rather than the allegories more common to French monumental sculpture at the time.

During the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, Maillol had gained acclaim for many of his decorative works, especially the tapestries that he had first made in the South of France, where he had employed two sisters, Clotilde and Angélique Narcisse. When he moved to Paris, Clotilde went with him; they married in 1896 and she was an important Muse for him during this early part of his career. Gradually, Maillol moved away from tapestry and instead explored more and more plastic media, initially creating wood carvings but abandoning that material in favour of bronze at the turn of the century. Thus La nuit dates from only a couple of years after he had begun exploring the medium in which his works are most often recognised, for instance in the range of sculptures visible to this day in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, which includes a cast of La nuit.

Clotilde was the model for Maillol's sculpture La Méditerranée, which was begun in 1902 and completed around 1905, when it was shown at the Salon d'Automne, the same which was to become renowned for the debut of the Fauves. Maillol's own work made an impact then too, as it was reduced to an essence: people considered La Méditerranée a novel means of searching for timeless beauty. At the same time, Maillol's deliberately understated approach to the conceptual struck a new chord with a range of artists. In La Méditerranée, the theme of the titular sea was hinted at by the quasi-classical visual idiom and the languor of the seated pose, which itself can be seen to relate to La nuit. Indeed, comparing the two sculptures, it is as though the same model had merely changed pose, letting one arm down and raising her head in order to be in the position of La Méditerranée.

It was with La Méditerranée that Maillol made his biggest impact on the public consciousness with his sculptures, although he had enjoyed his first one-man show at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard in 1902, the year that La nuit was originally conceived. In that exhibition, he had shown a range of works in various media including his sculptures. His pared-back Léda would eventually be purchased by Octave Mirbeau. These early exhibitions resulted in Maillol, who already had a large number of friends in the artistic avant-garde of the day, becoming seen as one of the exponents of a new form of sculpture, succeeding that of Auguste Rodin.

Maillol was one of the few great sculptors of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries who had not studied under Rodin, a point that was emphasised by another of the great pioneers of the day, the Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi, who recalled:

'Rodin agreed to take me on as a student. For my part I refused; nothing grows in the shade of great trees. Maillol shared this point of view with me. He was not beholden to Rodin's genius, nor did he pass through Rodin's studio' (Maillol, quoted in D. Vierny, 'Maillol and Modernity', trans. R. Pincus-Witten, Aristide Maillol: Sculpture, exh. cat., New York, 1997, n.p.).

Both Maillol and Brancusi, in the wake of the Impressionistic 'realism' of Rodin's sculptures which had been such a bracing and scandalous novelty only a short period earlier, sought something more timeless and expressive in the plastic arts. Both artists also sought greater contact with their materials: Maillol had occasional assistance in later years, but initially impressed visitors by working alone, rather than in the bustling workshop-like atmosphere of Rodin's studio. He never had a similar workshop-like production model; this lack of assistance is one of the reasons for the relatively limited number of works in his oeuvre. Crucially, both Maillol and Brancusi found this through the reduction of forms to a common factor, pulling back in order to approach a more universal visual language. Each did this in a different way: Brancusi would eventually distil his forms to a bare minimum, while Maillol created the weighty, monumental female figures that would come to dominate his artistic output and through which he was able to display an incredible versatility in conveying a range of emotions, while above all celebrating beauty itself. As Maillol himself explained, 'Form pleases me and I make it, though for me it is the means of expressing an idea. It is ideas I seek. I use form to achieve that which is without form. I express what is impalpable, what is untouched' (Maillol, quoted in ibid., n.p.).

Rodin himself was clearly impressed with Maillol's works. Some years later, when he viewed the installation at a large exhibition of a subsequent version of La nuit, he would comment: 'One forgets too often that the human body is an architecture - a living architecture' (Rodin, quoted in B. Lorquin, Aristide Maillol, London, 1995, p. 66). This is visible in La nuit, which shows a sense of mass and structure that may reflect Maillol's respect for Cézanne's breakthroughs in the two-dimensional arts. Here, a similar fascination with the underlying geometric language of existence - and crucially of harmony - is displayed. Maillol was not seeking likeness, he was not imitating his Greek and Roman predecessors - instead, he was tapping into a deeper and therefore more elemental form of representation - classic, rather than classical. As he himself said, in words which could apply to the figure of the woman in La nuit, 'I don't want to make the real. I want to make the true' (Maillol, quoted in ibid., n.p.).

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