Etude pour Harmonie, 1940
b. 1861, Banyuls-sur-Mer, France
d. 1944, Perpignan, France
Born in a small fishing village, Aristide Maillol moved to Paris at the age of twenty, where he started applying to the École des Beaux-Arts. He was finally accepted in 1885, and studied under artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, but soon became disillusioned with the academic form. In May 1889, Maillol discovered Paul Gauguin’s work at an exhibition held at Café Volpini, and his style dramatically changed as he began focusing on these stylized paintings of women. At Gauguin’s suggestion, Maillol started exhibiting with the Nabis, a group of young artists influenced by Impressionism and the decorative elements of Art Nouveau; the group included Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard. Sharing the Nabis’s interest in the decorative arts, Maillol began working in tapestry. He exhibited at the Salon des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and then opened a workshop in his hometown in 1893. However, due to his declining eyesight, Maillol began producing small terracotta sculptures. By age forty, in 1901, he was almost exclusively a sculptor.
Maillol’s statuettes and his later, more monumental works focus on the female figure: thick-limbed, symmetrical, and highly archetypal. Working at a time marked by Auguste Rodin’s realist influence, Maillol instead emphasized the formal qualities of the body, rather than emotional or psychological meaning. Intermittently throughout his career, Maillol returned to two-dimensional work, almost always focusing on the female nude.
After he died in an automobile accident in Banyuls in 1944, Maillol’s model and friend, Dina Vierny, established a foundation to administer his estate, which became two museums dedicated to his work: Musée Maillol, Paris, and Banyuls-sur-Mer. Major retrospectives of his work have been shown at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Haus der Kunst, Munich; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Kunsthaus Zürich.