Dina Vierny has confirmed the authenticity of this bronze.
Following the end of the First World War in 1918, Maillol was again able to turn his attention to monumental projects. He resumed work on the recumbent nude that was to adorn his Monument à Cézanne. He received commissions from various cities to honor their war dead, but not all of his monumental projects related to such solemn themes. He completed the present Grande baigneuse à la draperie in 1921 as a representation of the Seine river; she is appropriately seen disrobing as she prepares to enter the water. In a related version, with arms similarly placed, she appears nude. Maillol created a gently striding nude to symbolize the natural beauty and fertility of the countryside around Paris, the Ile-de-France. The conception for these allegorical representations stemmed from the lore of antiquity, in which people believed that a locale of special beauty, such as a forest, lake, mountain or grotto, possessed its resident female spirit, usually a lesser divinity, a nymph.
Maillol imbued these figures with the form as well as the spirit of classical Greek sculpture, which he admired above all other arts of the past. The water nymph depicted here wears her hair in a classical style, with short curled bangs in front, and her longer tresses tied back in a bun. Maillol was especially drawn to Greek sculpture of the archaic period, with its simple and stately sense of expression, which he favored over the more naturalistic depiction of the human body seen in Greek marble sculpture of the fifth century B.C. and the Hellenistic period thereafter. Maillol had extensively studied Greek sculpture in the Louvre, and in 1908 he made his first trip to Greece, accompanied by his patron, the German Count Harry Kessler. He wrote afterwards "I prefer the primitive art of Olympus to that of the Parthenon. 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 today, which seeks to represent human flesh. If I lived in the VIth B.C. century I should have found happiness in working with those men" (quoted in J. Rewald, Maillol, London, 1929).
The monumental nudes of the 1920s display this more deliberate stylization, when lends them an appropriately timeless aspect, while they retain the grace and ease of Maillol's smaller and earlier figures. Although the outward character of Maillol's female subjects may have evolved over time, the essential feminine qualities that the sculptor expressed remained constant. The novelist and critic Octave Mirbeau wrote in 1905: "It is the same woman; but every time, as in real life, she is a new and different woman. The woman of Maillol's creation is always chaste, full of ardour, and magnificent. She can give us the conception of strength, of the perfection of the human body, because she presents us with the conception of life, because she is life itself. She is woman created by Maillol; she is his contribution to the sculpture of today. This new treasure of admirable, living forms is offered by a great, virile and sensitive artist to the art of France and of the world" (quoted in ibid.).