The late Dina Vierny confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
The debut of the plaster model of the second version of La Méditerranée, Maillol’s first life-size figure, at the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris established his reputation as one of France’s leading sculptors. This meditative female subject is the very embodiment of his mature sculptural vision, and inaugurated the distinguished line of seated, crouching, and recumbent life-size nudes for which he became famous. When first shown, viewers immediately recognized that La Méditerranée represented an approach to the figure that countered the prevailing influence of Rodin. In contrast to the latter’s impassioned expression in tactile, light-catching surfaces and in dramatic, dynamic poses, Maillol offered a serene, unforced, disarmingly direct and casually lifelike manner.
“[Maillol] was able, through the limpid simplicity of his forms, to forge a new style as early as 1905,” Bernard Lorquin has written. “La Méditerranée and its Olympian calm may indeed have been the birth of modern sculpture. A sculpture that has been freed from the turmoil of passions and movement can surely be said to contain the seeds of an art that is abstract by nature. In La Méditerranée Maillol...created a timeless work that is modern before modernity, ancient long after antiquity” (op. cit., 1995, pp. 41 and 49).
During his first visit to Maillol’s Marly-le-Roi studio in August 1904, the German publisher and collector Count Harry Kessler purchased a figurine, an early idea for La Méditerranée, which Maillol had modeled around 1900. Kessler asked the sculptor to create a larger version in stone, to which Maillol agreed, persuading his new patron to commission a life-size figure, which had been his intention for La Méditerranée from the outset. The plaster that Maillol presented in June 1905 to Kessler, and later at the Salon, is the second and final version of this subject, which differs from the present first version in that the woman’s right arm is bent upwards to meet the upper side of her head, and her right knee raised higher to support her elbow.
Some critics deemed the plaster La Méditerranée at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, there simply titled Femme, to be a poor imitation of ancient Greek sculpture. Maurice Denis, however, declared, “It is this classic statue that is the newest work of art in the whole Salon d’Automne” (quoted in L. K. Kramer, op. cit., 2000, p. 113). The writer André Gide noted that “She is lovely; she doesn’t signify a thing. She is a silent work of art. One has to go far back in time, I believe, to find such a complete indifference to any concern foreign to the simple presentation of beauty” (quoted in B. Lorquin, op. cit., 1995, p. 48).
Maillol intended that this female figure evoke the spirit of his native region around Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast. While the title today usually includes the French feminine article, Maillol preferred to leave it off. He explained, “I baptized it ‘Mediterranean’... not ‘The Mediterranean’, that is, the sea... This was not the idea I was searching for... My idea was to create a figure, young, pure, luminous, and noble... But isn’t all that the ‘Mediterranean’ spirit? That’s why I chose her name” (quoted in L. K. Kramer, op. cit., 2000, p. 109).