Fundamental to Maillol's sculpture was the primacy of form and subject. Inspired by Khmer and Classical Greek sculptures, he imbued his figures with a simple grace and charm. In La petite Marie the young female model is casually posed, fresh and immediate in her appeal. As John Rewald observed, "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 distinctively his own; and while all agitation is foreign to his art, there is in his work, especially in his small statuettes, such a quiet grace and such warm feeling that they never appear inanimate. He has achieved a peculiar balance between a expression--even sensuousness--which seems forever quivering and alive" (Aristide Maillol, London, 1939, pp. 6 and 7).
Maillol's sculpture often focused on a gesture, attitude or movement, observed in nature, that interested him. La petite Marie portrays a woman striding confidently, her arms held behind her back and her head held high. The pose is suggestive of the final version of Ile-de-France of the same year (see Christie's, New York, sale 8 November 1999, lot 116), and it represents a change in the beauty ideal of his earlier work in favor of a stronger presence. The model for La petite Marie was Maillol's maid Marie, who worked for the sculptor through the 1930s, and who also modeled for his monumental sculpture Les trois nymphes (1931-1937; Rewald, no. 131).