Aristide Maillol studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before turning to sculpture in 1895. His early works were influenced by Art Nouveau; Paul Gauguin’s primitivism then took it in a plainer, more monumental direction shaped by the statues of Antiquity. Taking the opposite tack to Auguste Rodin’s followers, he eschewed using expressive forms to capture emotions and movements to translate subjectivity, preferring to create unadorned volumes in smooth, shiny materials. As a result, he is considered one of the leading figures in modern classicism, the ‘return to order’ typical of one French school of sculpture in the opening three decades of the twentieth century.
The most immediate frame of reference for the Torse de l’Île-de-France is of course the broken statues of Antiquity, but the work also reflects the artist’s own working practices: as contemporary photographs of his studio show, he tended to start with the torso before adding arms and legs and then the head. Many plasters of these intermediary stages have survived, but were never cast during the artist’s lifetime.
This bronze work is an exception. It is a step in the process of an idea that Maillol had been working on since 1907 for a sculpture of a woman walking in water. A large model was produced in around 1910, then set aside until 1920-1921, when an American collector commissioned a bronze version. Maillol then modified the base into an oval in a second ‘footless’ bronze version, which caught the Lausanne-based collector Henri-Auguste Widmer’s eye at the Galerie Eugène Druet in Paris. Widmer commissioned a cast for his own collection from Claude Valsuani’s foundry in 1922.
Ursel Berger and Jörg Zutter, Aristide Maillol, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Flammarion, 1996: n. 71.
Jörg Zutter and Catherine Lepdor (eds.), La Collection du Dr Henri-Auguste Widmer au Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Milan, Skira, 1998: n. 199.