Aristide Maillol (1861-1944): The Quest for Harmony
25 February – 28 May 2023
Enjoying optimal visibility in Paris, thanks to the bronzes erected by Dina Vierny and André Malraux in the Carrousel Gardens, Aristide Maillol is now being given a retrospective at La Piscine, where his Île-de-France welcomes visitors to the sculpture gallery. At first glance, the Catalan sculptor appears ubiquitous, misunderstood and mysterious in equal measures.
Based on several years of research, carried out with the support of the Fondation Dina Vierny, this exhibition offers a new reading of Maillol: that of an upstanding and tireless worker who made, unmade, remade and constructed his considerable oeuvre using a limited corpus of forms. The exhibition reveals this creative process, sometimes wrongly interpreted as the continual repetition of a single female archetype, despite Maillol’s unique use of forms which allowed for perpetual renewal.
Arisitide Maillol carved shapes and built his compositions, guided by the infinite possibilities of nature, with a finely-honed sense of synthesis and the environment. He moved away from the subject, the accident, in favour of the essence. Aiming for timelessness, rooted in a type of archaic universality, his work is somewhat removed from avant-garde sculpture while enjoying rightful recognition within the timeline of modernity. This retrospective thus underlines the role played by Maillol in the sculptural art scene during the first half of the 20th century: in contrast to Rodin’s expressionism, he embodies the values of clarity and harmony of form, thereby raising his work to the very culmination of classical traditions.
Thanks to exceptional loans, this exhibition presents Maillol’s work in all its variety: mainly sculpture, but also paintings, ceramics, embroidery and decorative objects, as well as drawings and woodcuts. While exploring the artist’s entire career, the retrospective focuses particularly on the early period, during which Maillol discovered his true vocation and confirmed his talents as a sculptor.
His artistic journey was certainly far from linear. After starting to make his name as a painter at the 1890 Salon, he turned his hand to tapestry, which he dreamed of reinventing. Inspired by Gauguin and Puvis de Chavannes, as well as Art Nouveau, he established close relationships with the Nabis group, who he met in late 1894, forging lifelong friendships with Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard. An artist with a fascination for experimentation and transposition was gradually revealed, focusing particularly on the ‘Woman in the wave’ motif, using traditional craftsmanship that served as an enduring catalyst for his art. Arisitide Maillol began sculpting in around 1895, initially creating small-scale works in wood, which attracted the attention of Octave Mirbeau, Ambroise Vollard, the Bernheim brothers, Eugène Druet and Gustave Fayet. In Maillol’s Leda, Auguste Rodin recognised the epitome of a silent sculpture, which “says nothing” but maintains an imposing quality thanks to its formal perfection. Maillol’s first ambitious figure, Mediterranean, was created for Count Harry Kessler (as were The Cyclist and Desire, in later years). Revealed at the Salon d’Automne in 1905, it was a manifesto for a “return to order”: rejecting any attempt at expression, the artist introduced a new classicism. Almost exclusively female nudes, with their strong and sensual anatomy in simple geometric forms, bring a calmness and serenity to his art. Juxtaposed with variations on the Monument to Cézanne, the Prairie Nymphs group and The Mountain, ordered for the 1937 exhibition, round off this unique journey in spectacular style.
The exhibition is being shown at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris between 11 April and 28 August 2022 and at the Zürich Kunsthaus from 23 September 2022 until 22 January 2023.
Exhibition Curators Ophélie Ferlier-Bouat, Chief Heritage Curator, Director of the Musée Bourdelle in Paris and Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Honorary Director General of the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Honorary Chief Heritage Curator.
Roubaix Curators Alice Massé and Bruno Gaudichon, Chief Heritage Curators Exhibition Design Cédric Guerlus – Going Design
Catalogue published jointly by Musée d’Orsay and Gallimard.
This exhibition has benefited from exceptional patronage from CIC Nord Ouest, a loyal partner of the La Piscine museum.
The design was made possible thanks to generous support from the paints distributed by Tollens.
Aristide Maillol, La Montagne, 1937, pierre. Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts, dépôt du musée d’Orsay
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / René-Gabriel Ojéda