Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
Property from the Collection of John W. Kluge Sold to Benefit Columbia University
Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

Monument à Port-Vendres

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)
Monument à Port-Vendres
inscribed with monogram (on the top of the base); inscribed with foundry mark and numbered 'E. GODARD Fondeur PARIS 4/6' (on the side of the base)
Length: 85 in. (215.9 cm.)
Conceived in 1921 and cast circa 1975
Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the previous owner, 1 November 1991.
J. Rewald, Maillol, Paris, 1939, p. 166 (stone version illustrated, p. 88).
W. George, Aristide Maillol et l'âme de la sculpture, Paris, 1977, p. 170, no. 178 (bronze version illustrated, p. 178).
B. Lorquin, Aristide Maillol, London, 1995, p. 83 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 83).

Lot Essay

Olivier Lorquin has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.

Following World War I, the villages of Elne, Céret and Port-Vendres commissioned Maillol to produce memorials for the war dead. The artist created a variation of the mythological Pomona figure for Elne in 1922 and a seated bronze figure Grief for Céret in 1923. The same year, Maillol submitted a maquette for the present sculpture to the mayor of Port-Vendres. The sculpture was summarily rejected as the mayor's wife objected to the figure's sensuous nudity. Aggrieved, Maillol nevertheless submitted a draped reclining figure similar to the beautiful classical odalisque Monument à Cézanne, 1912-1925, a project he had been reworking and rethinking for many years, creatively expanding on themes of the modernist bather and incorporating various classical influences. This revised clothed version of Monument à Port-Vendres was happily accepted, and the artist began work on the stone version of the present sculpture. Today a cast lead version is on view in Port-Vendres.

Monument à Port-Vendres is a regal and somber classical figure, yet it retains the quiet sensuality for which Maillol is so well known. Lorquin has observed: "Maillol chose a silent image to express the tragedy of a nation's youth being sacrificed in battle. Thus, when the town of Port-Vendres commissioned him to sculpt a monument to the war dead, he returned to the theme of the recumbent female figure he had been working on for several years" (op. cit., p. 83).

Maillol described the figure of Monument à Port-Vendres as Venus giving a palm frond to the deceased soldiers. The light transparent drapery is based on the clinging effect of the dampened clothes wrapped around clay figures in the studio. The artist molded the figure first and then would work on the folds of cloth, sensitively creating volumes of elegant drapery. The stylized proportions of the body are informed by the proto-classical traditions of French Renaissance artists such as Jean Goujoun, Germain Pilon and Benvenuto Cellini whose funerary monuments and objects share the same elongated proportions, strong modeling, svelte thin bodies, restrained heraldic gestures and somber facial expressions.

Monument à Port-Vendres also reflects Maillol's interest in the antique statuary of ancient Greece and Rome. A 1908 trip to Greece with patron Count Harry Kessler included visits to Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius and Athens. Rewald describes the effect of trip on Maillol: "To him the marvels of Greece were not merely witnesses of a glorious period of sculpture; he divined with intensity the living spirit which still animates their beauty" (op. cit., p. 17). The artist was inspired by the sculpture of the Parthenon, and particularly the caryatids of the Erechteum and the Propylaea and held a special admiration for the work of Olympus: "It is the most beautiful thing I have seen; it is more beautiful than anything else in the world. It is an art of synthesis, a higher art than ours to-day which seeks to represent the human flesh" (quoted in ibid.).

Maillol's friend the poet Marc Lafarge observed in 1925 of Maillol's classical archaism: "Having broken away from Impressionism, Maillol has returned to the primary rules of his art, in the same way as the Provençal Artist has returned to those of painting. He has understood once again the value of design and the nobility of posture, while suppressing all narrative interest. He is to sculpture what Cézanne was to painting" (ibid., p. 162).

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