Aristide Maillol

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Aristide Maillol 1925, photograph by Alfred Kuhn

Aristide Joseph Bonaventure Jean Maillol (born December 8, 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer , Département Pyrénées-Orientales , † September 27, 1944 ibid) was a French sculptor , painter and graphic artist . In France he was considered the most important antipode of Auguste Rodin and had a lasting influence on European sculpture in the first half of the 20th century.


Banyuls-sur-mer, place of birth and second residence

Aristide Maillol was the fourth of five children of the cloth merchant and vineyard owner Raphaȅl Maillol and his wife Cathérine, nee. Rouge. He came from a family of winemakers, sailors and smugglers. The place of birth, the fishing town of Banyuls-sur-Mer, is located on the Mediterranean Sea near the Spanish border. Maillol's mother tongue was Catalan ; He spoke French with a heavy accent.

After elementary school he attended the Collège Saint-Louis in Perpignan , where his desire to become an artist developed in art class. Initially, his family did not understand this. At the age of 20, Maillol moved to Paris in 1881 to study art. First he took part as a freelance student in a drawing course at the École des Beaux-Arts , which was under the painter and sculptor Jean-Léon Gérôme . When he showed him his drawings a few months later, Gérome said he belonged to the arts and crafts school, where Maillol then transferred. There he took sculpture courses. After a few months Maillol returned to the École des Beaux-Arts and was accepted into the class of the salon painter Alexandre Cabanel . After several attempts, he did not receive official approval until March 17, 1885. 80 of 223 applicants were accepted; Maillol took 64th place. Until 1893 he remained a student of the academy.

Aristide Maillol 1899 (Portrait of József Rippl-Rónai )
Maillol's gravestone with his work La Méditerranée in Banyuls-sur-Mer in what is now the Musée Maillol Banyuls

Maillol lived in extreme poverty in Paris and the surrounding area for almost twenty years. In 1894 Maillol took Clotilde Narcis, one of his employees in the tapestry studio in Banyuls, to Paris and moved into an apartment with her on Rue Saint-Jacques. They were married in July 1896 and their only child, Lucien, was born in October of that year. For more than a decade, Clotilde became Maillol's ideal model in painting and textile arts as well as in sculpture. In 1899 the young couple moved to Villeneuve-Saint-Georges , a municipality in the Val-de-Marne department . In 1903 the company moved to Marly-le-Roi near Paris. But the artist also kept his residence in his hometown of Banyuls for life. He usually lived near Paris in the summer and in the Mediterranean in the winter. He initially earned his living restoring stucco work .

Gradually, Maillol's recognition grew. Julius Meier-Graefe included it in 1904 in his important publication "The History of Modern Art". In the same year the artist met his most important patron, Harry Graf Kessler , for whom he performed some of his main works. Together they both traveled to London in 1904, to Greece in 1908, and to Germany in 1930, especially to Weimar and Berlin.

Maillol's fame grew above all abroad; in addition to Count Kessler, other German collectors, such as Karl Ernst Osthaus , acquired works by him, and important collectors were the Hahnloser couple, Oskar Reinhart in Winterthur, Johannes Rump in Copenhagen and the Kröller-Müller couple in The hague. Important collectors in France were Octave Mirbeau , Gustave Fayet and Jacques Zoubaloff.

In 1913 the first solo exhibition outside of France took place at the Kunstkring Rotterdam, showing two bronzes, six plaster figures and photographs. In the same year, Maillol's works were featured in the famous Armory Show in New York. The artist was reluctant to meet the growing interest in his works. His works were rarely seen in the Paris salons. At the first foreign traveling exhibition from 1925 to 1927 in the USA mainly plaster reproductions were shown.

The most important exhibitions took place in Berlin in 1928 in Alfred Flechtheim's gallery , in 1933 in the Kunsthalle Basel, which Otto Roos helped to organize, and in 1937 as part of an accompanying exhibition of French art to the Paris World Exhibition in the Petit Palais . Because of Maillol's close ties to Count Kessler, he was suspected of being a spy for Germany during World War I. During the Second World War he was assessed as a collaborator because of his acquaintance with Arno Breker .

In 1944 Maillol suffered a car accident on a village street; a few days later he died in his home in Banyuls-sur-Mer.

The work

The artistic beginnings

La Femme à l'ombrelle , 1895, Musée d'Orsay , Paris

As a painter, Maillol did not orientate himself towards his teacher Cabanel, instead he was shaped by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin , with whom he was personally acquainted. In 1892 he joined the artist group Nabis , whose decorative and surface-based art corresponded to his painting at that time.

In the 1890s, Maillol turned to tapestry making. He was no longer satisfied with his paintings; he was bothered by certain manners which he had become accustomed to at the academy. With the embroidered carpets, however, he was forced to slowly put one tone next to the other.

To implement textile art, he set up a small tapestry studio in his home village of Banyuls in 1893 and employed local women in weaving, including his future wife Clotilde Narcis (1873–1952) and her sister Angélique. In 1903, Maillol gave up making tapestries due to an eye disease. Maillol's most important tapestries are at the end of his preoccupation with textile art: two large tapestries made for Princess Hélène Bibesco.

Danseuse , 1896, wooden bas-relief, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The trained painter worked primarily as a sculptor since the mid-1890s. First he carved small reliefs, which he exhibited in the Paris Salon SNBA in 1896. The following year he presented a showcase with terracotta figures there. His first sculptural work was presented in the arts and crafts department of the salon. Maillol only actually became a sculptor when he began to carve wooden figures about 60 cm high. The decisive step towards sculpture only became comprehensible to the public in 1902 through Maillol's first solo exhibition: the art dealer Ambroise Vollard presented 33 works by the artist from June 15 to 30, 1902: eleven tapestries, a wall fountain, the carved cradle of the son and finally statuettes made of plaster, wood and bronze. The exhibition was a success; For example, the writer Octave Mirbeau bought a wooden statuette there (today in the Kröller-Müller Museum , Otterlo) and a cast of Maillol's most famous small bronze, the Leda (today the Oskar Reinhart collection, Winterthur). After the exhibition, Vollard bought five paintings and 13 sculptures from the artist. As was customary at the time, Vollard acquired the reproduction rights to these works at the same time. Vollard initiated unlimited editions of some of Maillol's most popular small sculptures, which can be found in countless museums and private collections. Since Maillol had assigned the right to these works, the Vollard bronzes are legal. The artist mostly had nothing to do with their creation, but most of these bronzes are of high quality, presumably because Vollard commissioned the same casters who Maillol had cast at the beginning of his career: Bingen et Costenoble and Florentin Godard.

The small sculptures from Maillol's early days are also so convincing because the artist and his wife Clotilde always had his ideal model in mind. Their type and proportions became groundbreaking for his sculptural work:

“I married a little woman. I've always had short legs in front of my eyes. So I was looking for harmony between my short legs. If I were married to a long-legged Parisian, I might have sought the harmony of long legs. "

- Aristide Maillol

The patron

Harry Graf Kessler

On August 21, 1904, Maillol met his most important patron, Harry Graf Kessler . This first encounter is described in Kessler's diary: “He lives in a very small house, very primitive and rural in the middle of large open orchards. When we knocked on the door (there was no bell) the woman appeared on the little balcony and called out into the gardens: Aristide, Aristide! whereupon a peasant in a blue blouse with a wide-brimmed worker in a straw hat came up and greeted us in a very broad patois in a peasant, honest way. He didn't introduce himself and didn't care much about our names, but was just Maillol: looking about 40 years old, long, uncircumcised, black beard, very expressive, shining blue eyes, gaunt and with a long eagle nose of a decidedly Spanish type . He led us straight into the studio, which is a small building in the garden, and showed us his work and drawings, the bust of Mme Maurice Denis, a small crouching female figure that he wanted to make life-size and from which I immediately bought the small model (800 frcs) ... Among his drawings I found a sketch of a huddled female figure, which struck me so much because of the wonderful arabesque of the lines and their brief summary that I suggested Maillol, who had spoken of intended stone sculptures, to put it in for me Run stone. Maillol plaid for life size; and we agreed on this if the price allowed it. "

Immediately upon their first meeting, Count Kessler commissioned the figure that would later be called La Méditerranée . Kessler's diary shows that the composition was based on a drawing and was not worked out in small and large models over a period of several years, as was usually assumed. On August 24, 1904, Maillol began building the large figure in moist clay. He worked on his masterpiece for a year. In 1905 the completed plaster version was exhibited in the Salon d'Automne under the title "Femme". Maillol thus achieved his first major success. The seated female figure in its balanced, calm composition is the most famous work in his work. The completion in limestone took several years to complete. Count Kessler had to sell this work in 1931 for financial reasons. It is in the Oskar Reinhart Collection in Winterthur.

La Méditerranée , sculpture in the Musée d'Orsay , Paris

Like La Mediterranée , Maillol created the male bronze sculpture Le Cycliste ('The Cyclist') and the relief Le Desir in 1907/08 at the suggestion of Count Kessler . The connection between patron and artist is also important because Kessler's diaries documented conversations with Maillol in detail, from which one can read his artistic convictions:

"In front of an ancient Venus in the Louvre, which for centuries has been washed by the sea on the African coast and smoothed and simplified by the waves as if by the hands of a great artist, but which is all the more powerful today in indestructible beauty, Maillol once said to me:" You see, that character has been my teacher. There would have been nothing left of a Rodin who would have gone through this. This figure taught me what plastic is. A statue has to be beautiful, even if its surface is destroyed and polished as smooth as a pebble. ""

- Harry Graf Kessler

The models

For Maillol, the female models were a very important inspiration. The most important and decisive model for the entire work was Maillol's wife Clotilde. In later models, right down to the last, Dina Vierny, he kept looking for the same proportions. In the numerous souvenir books that reproduce conversations with Maillol, the artist did not only tell about the first and last model. He described Thérèse, the Spanish housemaid of the Maillol family, who was his model for four years after the First World War, as the most beautiful of the young women who inspired him to work. It was the model for powerful statuettes and a first version of one of Maillol's main works, Venus . After their wedding, however, she could no longer be a model, which made the artist very indignant. In the mid-1920s he was barely able to work because of depression, and he wasn't able to complete Venus until 1928.

The three nymphs (1930) in the Jardin des Tuileries
La Montagne (1937), Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Lucile Passavant played a special role among the models because she was Maillol's student; we know some of her sculptural works. She was also the lover of the sculptor she accompanied on his trip to Germany in 1930. As a model, she was especially important for the middle figure of the three nymphs .

The river (1938/39) in front of the Hamburger Kunsthalle

The best known, however, is the last of the models: Dina Vierny , born in Chișinău , Moldova , whose Jewish parents fled Odessa with their little daughter to Paris because of the turmoil of the revolution. She became Maillol's model in 1934, when she was only 15 years old. During the school holidays she initially only posed for head portraits; after a while it was also offered to the artist as a nude model. Maillol made drawings and paintings after her. According to Vierny, she was the model for the large sculptures La Rivière ( The River ) and La Montagne ( The Mountains ). Above all, however, she was the model for the statue Harmonie , which was originally to be called The Rose . Maillol worked on this figure for years. When the young woman was arrested by the German occupying forces in 1943, he was unable to continue working. The aged artist did not succeed in completing this last work.

In contrast to Maillol, Dina Vierny avoided any contact with the German occupiers, made contact with the French resistance and led refugees across the French-Spanish border. Old Maillol had shown her the way to Portbou himself , which in the past was only used by smugglers, mules and herds of goats. In the spring of 1943 she was caught and ended up in the notorious Fresnes prison near Paris, which she was able to leave after six months thanks to the efforts of Arno Breker.

Dina Vierny opened an art gallery in 1947, which she opened with a Maillol exhibition. In 1978 she became the heiress of Maillol's son Lucien, whom she had previously supported in looking after the estate. In 1995 she opened the Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol. Dina Vierny has made a great contribution to Maillol's work and has kept it in the public eye. Perhaps not entirely altruistic: the German art historian Ursel Berger is accused of having brought around 200 illegal copies of sculptures as originals on the market or given them to museums.

The sculpture

La Nuit , 1902, Stuttgart
L'Air , 1939, sculpture park in front of the Kröller-Müller Museum
L'Air on Georgsplatz in Hanover
Bronze sculpture La Baigneuse Drapée (copy) on Place Maillol in Saint-Cyprien Plage

Maillol is often referred to as the “Cézanne of sculpture” because he paved the way for sculpture - like Cézanne for graphics - towards abstraction. It was not until 1895 that Maillol began to turn to sculpture. First he made small sculptures out of wood and terracotta , from which he then developed his monumental stone and bronze figures. In 1902 he went public for the first time with a large exhibition in the Ambroise Vollard gallery with his sculptural works.

The main theme of his sculptural work was the female nude . With his voluminous, sensual female figures in perfect proportions, Maillol created a three-dimensional “love poetry” (Harry Graf Kessler). Maillol largely eschewed details and individual features, instead his nudes in their closed volume radiate infinite calm and harmonious balance.

In 1905 he exhibited his first major monumental work, La Méditerranée ('The Mediterranean') in the Salon d'Automne . His wife Clotilde had modeled it. This large sculpture embodies his connection to the Mediterranean culture. It is typical for all of his sculptural work. He masters the monumental form with harmoniously balanced proportions and an impassionately calm expression. The surface is evenly smoothed and is in complete contrast to Rodin's dramatic work with its agitated surfaces and moving silhouettes. For Maillol the allegorical universally valid is important, the individual becomes irrelevant. His works are clearly structured and rest in themselves without appearing classical.

“Maillol should be placed alongside the greatest sculptors. You see, there is something in that little bronze that equates to the work of the old masters and that young beginners can use as an example. I am happy that I saw that. If the word genius, accorded so inappropriately to so many people today, has any meaning at all, it is appropriate here. Yes, Maillol embodies the genius of sculpture. One has to be malicious or very ignorant in order not to recognize this! What a certainty of taste! What wisdom of life that emerges in the simple! A fleeting passerby never stops in front of it, because he does not stop in front of what is simple. He believes that art must be something complicated and incomprehensible. He only stops in front of what arouses his curiosity by unfair means. And exactly what is admirable, I would say eternal, about Maillol's art is the purity, the clarity, the transparency in the craftsmanship and in the thought. There is nothing in any of his works that might arouse the curiosity of the passer-by. "

- Auguste Rodin

The graphic

Maillol's graphic work includes drawings, etchings and lithographs, in particular woodcuts . An example of this is the volume of poetry “Chansons pour elle. 25 poems by Paul Verlaine ”, Paris 1939, illustrated with 28 woodcuts by Maillol. He became one of the most important illustrators of ancient literature; His series of pictures on Virgil's Eclogae et Georgica and Ovid's Ars amandi are particularly well known . Like the sculpture, his graphic work is also characterized by the emphasis on simple lines and contours.


Maillol's work had an immense influence on European, especially German, sculpture. Examples include a. the works of the German sculptors Wilhelm Lehmbruck , Georg Kolbe and Arno Breker , who had a studio on Montmartre for a long time and learned from Maillol. But Constantin Brâncuși and Henry Moore were also inspired by Maillol to renew the classic design language. He was a lifelong friend of Henri Matisse . The Musée Maillol in Paris, Rue de Grenelle 61, provides insights into the life and work of the artist.

Some of Maillol's works were shown at documenta 1 (1955) and documenta III in 1964 in Kassel .

Individual works

  • La Méditerranée , 1904/05
  • L'Action enchaînée , 1905-08
  • Flora , around 1910/12, bronze, 163.5 × 49.5 × 39 cm, Munich, Neue Pinakothek , (Inv.No.B 154)
  • Vénus , 1918-28, Tate Gallery , London
  • L'Île-de-France , 1925
  • Les trois nymphes , 1930/38, Tate Gallery London
  • L'Air , 1940, Toulouse
  • Harmony , 1940/44


  • Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zuttner: Aristide Maillol . Prestel, Munich 1996.
  • Carola Breker: The early Maillol . Wuerzburg 1992.
  • Pierre Camo: Maillol, mon ami . Lausanne 1950.
  • Judith Cladel: Maillol. Sa vie, son oeuvre, ses idées . Grasset, Paris 1937.
  • Henri Frère: Conversations with Maillol . Frankfurt am Main 1961.
  • Gabriele Genge: Artifact Fetish Sculpture: Aristide Maillol and the description of the foreign in modern times . Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin, Munich 2008.
  • Waldemar George: Aristide Maillol . Berlin 1964.
  • Emmanuelle Héran: Vollard éditeur des bronzes de Maillol: une relation controversée. In: De Cézanne à Picasso. Chefs-d'oeuvres de la galerie Vollard . Musée d'Orsay, Paris 2007.
  • Harry Graf Kessler : Aristide Maillol. In: Essays and Speeches 1899–1933. ( online )
  • Linda Konheim Kramer: Aristide Maillol (1861-1944): Pioneer of Modern Sculpture . UMI Dissertation Services, Ann Arbor 2007.
  • Rolf Linnenkamp: Aristide Maillol - The great sculptures . Munich 1960.
  • Bertrand Lorquin: Aristide Maillol , Skira, Genève 1994.
  • Aristide Maillol: Shepherd Life - 36 woodcuts . Insel-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1954.
  • Hans Dieter Mück : Aristide Maillol & Harry Graf Kessler: a documentation based on sources. Utenbach 2005.
  • Hans Albert Peters (Ed.): Maillol. June 17 - September 3, 1978, State Art Gallery Baden-Baden . Baden-Baden 1978.
  • John Rewald : Maillol . Hyperion, Paris 1939
  • Sabine Walter: Harry Graf Kessler: collector and patron of modern art and his relationship with Aristide Maillol . Master's thesis, Tübingen 1995.
  • Hugo Weber: Memory of Aristide Maillol . In: Architektur und Kunst , Vol. 31, Issue 12, 1944, pp. 365-370.

Web links

Commons : Aristide Maillol  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Judith Cladel: Aristide Maillol. Sa vie - Son oeuvre - Ses idées , Paris 1937, pp. 18-20. Maillol was not actually a student of Gérome, as is often claimed.
  2. Ursel Berger: Data on life and work in: Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition "Aristide Maillol" in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (14 January to 5 May 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (25 January to 31 March 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, p. 9.
  3. Bertrand Lorquin: Aristide Maillol , Skira, Genève 1994, p. 160.
  4. Julius Meier-Graefe: History of the Development of Modern Art, Stuttgart 1904, Vol. 2, pp. 61–66.
  5. ^ Sabine Walther: Graf Kessler, Maillol and Hofmannsthal in Greece, in: Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition "Aristide Maillol" in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (14 January to 5 May 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (25 January to 31 March 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, pp. 145-150.
  6. Hans-Dieter Mück, Maillols Deutschland-Reise, Sommer 1930, in: Aristide Maillol, 1861–1944, exhibition catalog Apolda 2005, pp. 11–23.
  7. Ursel Berger: Maillol's international career. On the role of foreign collectors and sponsors, in: Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition "Aristide Maillol" in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (14 January to 5 May 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (25 January to 31 March 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, pp. 145-150.
  8. ^ Collection Jacques Zoubaloff, Galérie Georges Petit, Paris 1927, auction catalog.
  9. Linda Konheim Kramer: Aristide Maillol [1861-1944]: Pioneer of Modern Sculpture, Ann Arbor 2007, p. 200
  10. ^ Otto Roos: photographer Paul Senn, Aristide Maillol. (1933). Print in the estate of Otto Roos, inscribed on the reverse: "Maillol reads her letter". Photo: Album Roos (Otto Roos estate, Riehen community archive deposit). Retrieved September 30, 2019 .
  11. Maillol explained to Harry Graf Kessler his turn to textile art. Cf. Ursel Berger: More beautiful than a panel painting in: Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition “Aristide Maillol” in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (January 14 to May 5, 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (January 25 to March 31, 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, p. 29.
  12. Ursel Berger: “More beautiful than a panel painting”. Maillol's tapestries in: Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition “Aristide Maillol” in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (January 14 to May 5, 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (January 25 to March 31, 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, p. 34.
  13. Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition “Aristide Maillol” in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (January 14 to May 5, 1996), Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (January 25 to March 31, 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, cat. No. 16, 17.
  14. ^ Societé nationale des beaux-arts
  15. ^ Emanuelle Héran: Vollard éditeur des bronzes, in: De Cézanne à Picasso. Chefs-d'oeuvres de la galérie Vollard, Musée d'orsay, Paris 2007, pp. 184–193
  16. In the historically verifiable foundry mark "A. Bingen et Costenoble Fondeurs Paris", "fondeurs" appears in the plural. Since the 1980s, a large number of Maillol bronzes with varying foundry signatures have appeared: "A. Bingen et Costenoble Fondeur Paris" cf. Ursel Berger: There is also a scandal surrounding Maillol, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 23, 2012; see. also: Élisabeth Lebon: Fondeurs de bronzes d'art, Perth 2003, p. 111 and errata notes!
  17. ^ Emanuelle Héran: Vollard éditeur des bronzes, in: De Cézanne à Picasso. Chefs-d'oeuvres de la galérie Vollard, Musée d'Orsay, Paris 2007, p. 188
  18. Quoted from Ursel Berger u. Jörg Zutter (Ed.): Aristide Maillol. Catalog book on the occasion of the exhibition "Aristide Maillol" in the Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin (January 14 to May 5, 1996) ... Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim (January 25 to March 31, 1997). Prestel, Munich 1996, p. 45.
  19. Harry Graf Kessler: Das Tagebuch, 3rd vol. 1897-1905, ed. by Carina Schäfer and Gabriele Biedermann, Stuttgart 2004, p. 695.
  20. ↑ For example in: Dina Vierny, Bertrand Lorquin, Antoinette Le Normand-Romain: Maillol, La Méditerranée , Les dossiers du Musée d'Orsay, No. 4, Paris 1986
  21. ^ Harry Graf Kessler: Aristide Maillol (1925), in: Essays and Speeches 1899-1933. Artists and Nations , tredition (Gutenberg project), Berlin 2011, p. 257 f.
  22. After the city of Hamburg had converted the traffic route, the sculpture is no longer in the public outside space, but in the rooms of the Hamburger Kunsthalle .
  23. Ursel Berger: False bronzes. There is also a Maillol scandal ,, June 25, 2012, accessed September 13, 2012
  24. Cf. W. Grohmann, Bildende Kunst und Architektur , Berlin 1953, p. 238: "Maillol is the turning point in sculpture like Cezanne in painting".
  25. Rodin on Maillol, report by Octave Mirbeau, quoted from: Waldemar George, Aristide Maillol , Berlin 1964, p. 213