Dina Vierny has confirmed the authenticity of this sculpture.
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 sought to explore the decorative possibilities in modern art. Following the example of Gauguin, Maillol carved some reliefs in wood, but he did not turn to sculpture as his primary means of expression until an eye inflammation in 1898 caused him to close his tapestry workshop. His earliest free-standing figures were carved from wood, as was the original model of the present sculpture (fig. 1). Maillol wrote, "In carving, material and thought are linked by the hand alone; thus the raw material is imbued with a warmth of feeling drawn directly from the artist's nature" (quoted in J. Rewald, op. cit., p. 12). This directness of feeling resulted in a fundamentally classical character that is observable in Maillol's earliest figures and remained a definitive attribute of his sculpture throughout his career. He deliberately avoided surface detail in his sculptures, and eschewed the expressiveness and dramatic movement seen in the figures of Auguste Rodin, whose work was then in vogue. Instead he favored smooth, plain surfaces, and usually selected poses of great simplicity, stillness and calm, from which he removed any overt display of emotional expression.
Maillol, like Gauguin, admired the serene and static art of the Egyptians and was drawn to the Khmer sculpture that he had seen in the Universal Expositions in Paris in 1889 and 1900. Maillol, however, began to part ways with Gauguin as he became increasingly interested in the art of classical Greece, for which Gauguin had little use. Maillol was especially drawn to Greek sculpture of the archaic period, and favored it over the more naturalistic depiction of the human body seen in Greek marble sculpture of the fifth century B.C. The present sculpture displays this simple, yet sensitive and expressive archaism. While nude and attractively proportioned in her slimness, the figure possesses a maidenly innocence and purity that banishes any hint of eroticism or desire. John Rewald wrote:
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).
(fig. 1) Aristide Maillol, Baigneuse debout, wood, circa 1900. Photographed in front of one the artist's tapestries.