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Aristide Maillol

(1861—1944)


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(b Banyuls-sur-Mer, 8 Dec. 1861; d Banyuls-sur-Mer, 24 Sept. 1944).

French sculptor, painter, illustrator, and tapestry designer. His early career was spent mainly as a tapestry designer, but he also painted, exhibiting with the Nabis. Although he first made sculpture in 1895, it was only in 1900 that he decided to devote himself to it after serious eyestrain made him give up tapestry. In 1902 he had his first one-man exhibition, which drew praise from Rodin; in 1905 came his first conspicuous public success at the Salon d'Automne; and after about 1910 he was internationally famous and received a constant flow of commissions. With only a few exceptions, he restricted himself to the female nude, expressing his whole philosophy of form through this medium. Contracted in 1905 to make a monument to the 19th-century revolutionary Louis-Auguste Blanqui, and asked by the committee what form he proposed to give it, he replied: ‘Eh! une femme nue’ (the monument was erected in Blanqui's birthplace Puget-Théniers in 1908; casts of the torso are in various collections, including Tate Modern, London). More than any other artist before him he brought to conscious realization the concept of sculpture in the round as an independent art form stripped of literary associations and architectural context, and in this sense he forms a transition between Rodin and the following generation of modernist sculptors. However, he rejected Rodin's emotionalism and animated surfaces; instead, Maillol's weighty figures, often shown in repose, are solemn and broadly modelled, with simple poses and gestures. His work consciously continued the classical tradition of Greek and Roman sculpture (he visited Greece in 1908), but at the same time has a quality of healthy sensuousness (his peasant wife sometimes modelled for him). Maillol took up painting again in 1939 after returning to his birthplace, Banyuls, but apart from his sculpture the most important works of his maturity are his book illustrations. His finest achievements in this field are the woodcut illustrations (which he cut himself) for an edition of Virgil's Eclogues (begun 1912 but not published until 1926), which show superb economy of line. A museum dedicated to Maillol opened in Paris in 1995 and his work can also be seen in many important collections of modern art.

Subjects: Art.


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