Dina Vierny has confirmed the authenticity of this bronze.
This sculpture is one of a series of nymphs that Maillol executed in the 1930s, in preparation for the important sculpture Les trois Nymphes, which was cast in 1937 and first shown in the Petit Palais in Paris. This figure is related to the left hand nymph, which is virtually a mirror image of the nymph on the right. The model for both figures was the sculptor's maid Marie (see Christie's, New York, sale, 6 November 2002, lot 22), while a model named Lucille posed for the central figure, which was executed first. The group was his hymn to youth. Maillol had thought of titling the work Les trois Grâces, making reference to the painting of Raphael, but realized that the figures were too robust for this subject.
In 1939, writing shortly after the completion of Les trois Nymphes, John Rewald observed:
In these later works the sculptor has moved further and further away from the type of Catalan woman whom we find in his "Mediterranean", in "Night" and in "Action in Chains", with broad hips, straight legs, heavy arms and swelling breasts: a well-developed body with broad shoulders. Now in his old age the sculptor's imagination dwells rather on the figures of very young girls, radiant with youth and freshness, full of lyrical grace and a sensual poetic feeling that youth which he extolls in the wonderful group of the three young girls, the "Nymphs", a recent work in which is summed up all his knowledge and all his feeling. (J. Rewald, Maillol, London, 1939, p. 22)
Many of the studies for Les trois Nymphes were done without arms and heads, as seen here. Indeed, Maillol appreciated the famous Venus of Milo in the Louvre all the more because it was preserved without its arms, which he felt "would add nothing to its beauty; on the contrary they would probably detract from it" (quoted in B. Lorquin, Maillol, New York, 1995, p. 112).
Maillol normally began a figure by modeling the torso, and only when he was satisfied with this did he work on the limbs. The grouping of the three nudes presented an unusual challenge: Maillol had to coordinate the placement of the limbs in order to achieve the most harmonious and rhythmical effect. His friend Jean Girou wrote, "When an arm does not correspond to his conception, when a leg isn't turned the way he wants it to, he amputates it, dismembers it without hesitation. His studio is a veritable accident ward: legs, arms, heads, torsos lie scattered about; plasters cut into section by the hacksaw of a consciousness, a knowledge, and an art that reject facility" (quoted in ibid.)
Although the outward physical features of his female subjects may have evolved over time, the essential feminine qualities that he expresses have 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 J. Rewald, op. cit.)