Olivier Lorquin has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
The present sculpture, a life-sized female nude with fleshy curves and an active contrapposto pose, occupied Maillol for a full decade in mid-career and represents a definitive statement of his aesthetic ideals. He conceived the sculpture in 1918 with the goal of producing a standing figure in a dynamic stance that would impart a greater sense of life than the static and self-contained compositions of his earlier years. He began by modeling the torso of the figure, which he then cast as an independent work--"one of the most accomplished pieces of sculpture in his entire oeuvre," according to Bertrand Lorquin (op. cit., p. 107; see Christie's, New York, 6 November 2008, lot 199). The torso is closely related to that of L'Eté, one of four life-sized female figures that Maillol had sculpted between 1910 and 1912 for the renowned Russian collector Ivan Morosov (see Christie's, New York, 4 May 2011, lot 17, and 1 November 2011, lot 15). Maillol repeated the undulating curve of the body and the lively swing of the hip that he had used with great success in L'Eté to create the impression of a young woman at the peak of her sexual maturity, dancing in the summer meadows. Maillol had been dissatisfied with the arms of L'Eté, however, and they continued to give him difficulty in his development of the present composition. He produced an armless version of the sculpture around 1922 and enlisted his maid Thérèse, a beautiful young Catalan woman, to pose over the course of four years in an effort to work out the final form. The head of the sculpture, he told Henri Frère, is her portrait: "She was tall with an admirable back, and very beautiful legs. And a pretty face, which one rarely sees. She had the most beautiful eyes that I ever saw" (quoted in L.K. Kramer, op. cit., p. 210).
Yet Maillol was unable to resolve the vexing problem of the gesture until his return to Marly in 1928 after a long winter's stay at Banyuls. He later recalled, "One fine day after fifteen years of this constantly renewed, constantly wasted labor... as I was standing in front of the statue which I had not set eyes on in six months, the line suddenly came to me" (quoted in B. Lorquin, op. cit., p. 107). The solution that Maillol eventually adopted is a graceful gesture, with both arms bent up at the elbows, the right hand facing out and the left hand turned inward. He had experimented with a similar pose around 1918 in a statuette that shows a woman holding a scarf. The scarf, which explains the position the hands, was replaced in Maillol's first version of the present composition by a necklace of pearls, a subtle reference to the mythical Venus rising from the sea. A plaster cast of the Vénus avec collier was exhibited to great acclaim in the 1928 Salon d'Automne and was subsequently acquired by the British State; the first bronze cast of the sculpture was purchased the same year by the prominent Swiss collectors Arthur and Hedy Hahnloser. The composition proved so popular that Maillol went on to produce a version without the necklace (the present sculpture), in which the left hand seems to beckon the viewer while the right hand counters with a gentle rebuff.
Both versions of Vénus highlight the selective and highly individual adoption of formal conventions from classical antiquity that characterizes Maillol's artistic process. Although the distinctive gesture has no close parallel in the ancient canon, the figure's compact bonnet of hair and emphatic facial features (the long and level brows, heavy lids, and strong jaw) recall the early fifth century BCE pedimental sculptures from Olympia that Maillol had admired on his seminal trip to Greece in 1908. The sculpture's nudity, undulating curves, and pronounced hipshot pose, in contrast, are derived from fourth century BCE statues such as Praxiteles's Aphrodite of Knidos, with their fusion of mortal and divine beauty. Linda Kramer has explained, "As a personification of his ideal of feminine beauty, both real and in abstract formal terms, Venus with a Necklace paralleled, but did not imitate, the idealized beauty of the statues of gods and goddesses made by the ancient Greeks. The majority of the French critics of the day understood this Venus in those terms. Claudel exclaimed, 'It is a goddess, but before all, it is a woman created for love and desire... It is she whom Maillol loves and admires in the secret of his artist's soul'" (op. cit., p. 210).