Aristide Maillol, Bas Relief
, terracotta. Exhibited at the 1913
, New York, Chicago, Boston. Catalogue image (no. 110)
Maillol was born in
Roussillon. He decided at an early age to become a painter, and moved to
Paris in 1881 to study art.
 After several applications and several years of living in poverty, his enrollment in the
École des Beaux-Arts was accepted in 1885, and he studied there under
Jean-Léon Gérôme and
 His early paintings show the influence of his contemporaries
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and
Gauguin encouraged his growing interest in decorative art, an interest that led Maillol to take up
tapestry design. In 1893 Maillol opened a tapestry workshop in Banyuls, producing works whose high technical and aesthetic quality gained him recognition for renewing this art form in France. He began making small
terracotta sculptures in 1895, and within a few years his concentration on sculpture led to the abandonment of his work in tapestry.
Maillol, The River
, bronze, 1938-1943, (displayed in
) in 2009
In July 1896, Maillol married Clotilde Narcis, one of his employees at his tapestry workshop. Their only son, Lucian, was born that October.
Maillol’s first major sculpture, A Seated Woman, was modeled after his wife. The first version (in the
Museum of Modern Art, New York) was completed in 1902, and renamed La Méditerranée.
 Maillol, believing that "art does not lie in the copying of nature", produced a second, less naturalistic version in 1905.
 In 1902, the art dealer
Ambroise Vollard provided Maillol with his first exhibition.
The subject of nearly all of Maillol's mature work is the female body, treated with a
classical emphasis on stable forms. The figurative style of his large bronzes is perceived as an important precursor to the greater simplifications of
Henry Moore, and his serene classicism set a standard for European (and American) figure sculpture until the end of
World War II.
Josep Pla said of Maillol, "These archaic ideas, Greek, were the great novelty Maillol brought into the tendency of modern sculpture. What you need to love from the ancients is not the antiquity, it is the sense of permanent, renewed novelty, that is due to the nature and reason."
His important public commissions include a 1912 commission for a monument to
Cézanne, as well as numerous war memorials commissioned after
World War I.
Maillol served as a juror with
Florence Meyer Blumenthal in awarding the
Prix Blumenthal (1919–1954) a grant awarded to painters, sculptors, decorators, engravers, writers, and musicians.
He made a series of
woodcut illustrations for an edition of
Eclogues published by
Harry Graf Kessler in 1926–27. He also illustrated
Daphnis and Chloe by
Longus (1937) and Chansons pour elle by
Paul Verlaine (1939).
He died in Banyuls at the age of eighty-three, in an automobile accident. While driving home during a thunderstorm, the car in which he was a passenger skidded off the road and rolled over. A large collection of Maillol's work is maintained at the
Musée Maillol in
Paris, which was established by
Dina Vierny, Maillol's model and platonic companion during the last 10 years of his life. His home a few kilometers outside Banyuls, also the site of his final resting place, has been turned into a museum where a number of his works and sketches are displayed.
Three of his bronzes grace the grand staircase of the
Metropolitan Opera House in New York City: Summer (1910–11), Venus Without Arms (1920), and Kneeling Woman: Monument to Debussy (1950–55). The third is the artist's only reference to music, created for a monument at
Claude Debussy's birthplace.
Aristide Maillol, The Night,