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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Aristide Maillol

The Crown of Flowers, 1889, Aristide Maillol--stiff, formulaic Impressionism                 
Artists today, as in the past, have been known to make mistakes. Quite likely, the biggest mistake artists make is that of becoming an artist in the first place. While that may sound amusing, it's not fully intended that way. I've known a surprising number of artists over the years who might have done well to search a little longer and harder in deciding upon a career. I've even known some who have come to realize their error and switched to totally different profession, or one related to some other aspect of the fine arts. Statistics indicate it happens in many other areas of endeavor, why should the fine arts be any different? Though probably not as often, the reverse is also true, individuals, often discouraged by parents or peers (or financial considerations) from becoming artists in their youth, eventually take up painting (usually), becoming skilled amateurs. If they're brave enough to quit their "day job" that means their not becoming an artist in their youth was a mistake.
 In the western Pyres, 1885, Aristide Maillol
Aristide Maillol
Aristide Maillol (right) was an artist who made a mistake (several of them, actually), not in becoming and artist, but first in becoming a painter. Realizing he was not "cut out" to be a painter he turned to tapestry design, actually opening a Paris workshop for that purpose in 1893. A product of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexandre Cabanel, he had a solid training in traditional painting and drawing, though his paintings look nothing at all like those of his academic tutors. However, they do look a lot like those of his peers, Gauguin, Renoir, Degas, and other impressionists. Maillol tried painting their landscapes (above), their rather chubby nude ladies, and their fashionably attired counterparts (top). The best (and worst) that can be said of his paintings is that they were imitative. His tapestries likely were the same (I can find no photos to indicate otherwise). He later took up woodblock carving, (prints and book illustration) with only a slightly better outcome (below, left).
A Maillol woodblock print.

A Seated Woman, 1900,
Aristide Maillol

The Night, 1902, Aristide Maillol
Then, around the turn of the century, as Maillol was about to turn forty, he began to play in plaster. He discovered he liked sculpture, though one of his earliest efforts, A Seated Woman (above, right), dating from 1900, would indicate the learning curve was a bit steep. The bronze casting (below), which eventually resulted from this first venture indicates he mastered it quickly. The piece was very well received, his work starting to be compared to that of his friend, Auguste Rodin, though in fact, Maillol deliberately avoided the emotional element that permeates virtually all of Rodin's work in favor of a clean, classical approach, one in which the formal elements of design predominate. The Night (left) from 1902, demonstrates this emotional restraint, clear composition, and pristine surfaces Maillol employed in all his subsequent sculpture. Virtually all his work depicts the female nude, which he strived to imbue with purely symbolic significance by removing all literary and psychological references, thus resulting in generalized figures emphasizing form itself.

Seated Woman, 1901, Aristide Maillol, his earliest work to gain public acclaim.
The Three Nymphs, Aristide Maillol
From around 1910 on, Maillol attained some degree of international fame. His commissions were sufficient to keep him busy with little time for original works intended for competitions. His carved Monument to Cezanne (below) he worked on periodically from 1912-25. His Three Nymphs (left) from 1930, has long been among his most popular works. Like Rodin's The Thinker, which shows up all over the world in various museum collections, Maillol's La Riviere (Bottom) castings can be found, often near water, in settings as diverse as Martha Stewart's garden and near a street fountain in Zurich Switzerland (bottom). Maillol died in 1941, at the age of eighty-three, but his sculpture has lived on to influence more recent artists as diverse as Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Jean Arp. His paintings...not so much.

Monument to Cezanne, 1912-25, Aristide Maillol
Castings of Maillol's La Riviere can be found all over the world.


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