27,6 x 37,1 cm (10 7/8 x 14 5/8 in.)
Sanguine on a plate of illustrations taken from the Album Cham. Vendu au profit des orphelins d’Auteuil, text by Ignotus [Félix Platel] of Figaro and the editors of France Illustrée, Paris, 1880, in-fol.
Monogram lower left in pencil
On verso, three lithographed caricatures by Amédée de Noé, called Cham (Paris, 1818-1879): One of his Nieces, Cham and his Niece, the Count of Noé, Father
27.6 x 37.1 cm. (10 7/8 x 14 5/8 in.)
France, Private Collection
“The degree to which Maillol had a feeling for form, the beauty of a line, the geometric perfection of a volume is well expressed in his least and quickest sketches. A simple line is sufficient to define the three-dimensional interest of a work over which he will linger for long months.”
Maurice Denis, 1925 (cit. Waldemar, 1964)
With Matisse, Picasso, and Léger, Aristide Maillol figures among the sculptor painters who pushed for modernizing sculpture. Born in the shadow of vinyards and olive trees in the village of Banyuls, Maillol was shaped by the land of his childhood to which he remained faithfully attached. Famous today for his sculpted works, Maillol started his artistic career as a painter. He arrived in Paris at the age of twenty to enter Gerôme’s studio, and then studied for a while at the School of Decorative Arts before joining Cabanel’s studio at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Feeling isolated in the capital, the young artist barely appreciated this academic training. Through the intermediary of Daniel de Monfreid, he joined the exhibition of the “Impressionist and Synthesist group” in 1889 which took place outside of the World’s Fair at the Volpini Café under Gauguin’s tutelage. The aesthetic principles of this master from Pont-Aven opened Maillol to new perspectives: “The School of Fine Arts, instead of enlightening me, veiled my eyes. In front of Gauguin’s pictures, I felt as if I could work in this spirit.”
Gauguin was the one who encouraged Maillol to join the Nabis group to whom he was introduced by Rippl-Ronai. The young painter drew inspiration from eclectic sources: he absorbed Greek, Egyptian, and Indian art; was a precursor in his enthousiasm for African art; and all the while manifested his taste for Baroque and Venetian masters. Contact with the Nabis led him to explore mural decoration and inspired him for tapestries. At a time when the latter art was disappearing, he established a tapestry studio in Banyuls, selected his own wool, and gathered his pigments for the dying. The presentation of the Mediterranean at the Autumn Salon of 1905 consecrated Maillol as a sculptor. Motivated by his success in three-dimensional works, the artist from then on pursued this path without ever abandoning painting.
Throughout his career, drawing remained the primordial principle of Aristide Maillol’s work, the daily foundation of his art. In charcoal, sanguine, or Conté pencils, he drew from life every day, and filled his sketchbooks with architecturally structured female silhouettes. The sculptor-draughtsman sought to render volumes, simplify the ever more powerful line, and convey the character of the body with more liveliness than exactitude. Thus he created a new aesthetic canon. His drawings accumulated and sometimes were brought out again years later to serve as the model for a new sculpture.
Here, Maillol depicts a reclining female nude. The artist likes sensing the body’s flexibility and places his models in complex elliptical poses. In our drawing, the young woman bends a leg, the other slips over it. The torso is curved, one arm folded back over the shoulder, the head inclined forward in counterpoint. This synthetic drawing is entirely composed of curves and counter-curves. The artist details the volume of the bosom and stomach muscles, emphasizes contours with heavy outlines. As was his custom, the legs take up a preponderant part of the space, whereas he only dashes in facial features and barely takes time for the hand.
The model is situated in a landscape which is evoked in the foreground by fruit placed on the ground and beyond that, grass which has been hatched in. The drawing is encircled by an elliptical frame which gives it the appearance of a low-relief. It echoes, in particular, the rectangular low relief sculpture of Victory (ill. 1) exhibited at the Fine Arts Museum of Montreal which depicts a young woman in the same introspective pose. This position would be repeated later in that of The Mountain (ill. 2) which is known from a preparatory drawing (The Mountain, 1937, charcoal on handmade paper, 74.5 x 101.7 cm. / 29 5/16 x 40 in., Maillol Museum). Our work may also be compared with a group of chalk drawings reproduced in the work Pierre Camo, Maillol’s close friend, published in 1950 in collaboration with the artist’s son, Lucien Maillol. On the cover is a fairly closely related drawing depicting a woman in a similar pose.
The evocative power of the female body in its expression and sensuality which Maillol achieves in our drawing make him not only the visual bard of ideal feminine beauty, but also, through the audacity of his line and independence of his style, a herald of modernity.