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The Tulip

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

1941, red chalk on paper

Why is this work so important?

Maillol’s drawings are definitively linked to his statues, but they also add another dimension to the depiction of women. The unique beauty of La Tulipe lies in the pencil lines. Everything is roundness and softness – a different kind of sensuality from that which radiates from his sculpture.

Small drawings cabinet

As we gaze at this tulip-shaped body, we can only agree with Dina Vierny’s words: “Maillol’s drawing is magical. Most of the time it is automatic – almost in spite of himself, the forms come into being, interweave themselves, and multiply without colliding, fixing themselves without solidifying, into a balanced fullness. Maillol draws what he sees. But his drawings are projections of his imaginary world, containing the beauty that we all of us carry within ourselves but are unable to formulate”. The unbroken line follows the contours of her curves, but what we notice first of all is the volume. Art historian Pierre du Colombier sums up Maillol’s concern for form like this: “He aims to be alive, rather than exact.” And while the pose is not very natural, it doesn’t really matter: the main thing is being able to emphasise the lines of the model.

In detail

Maillol’s drawing operates like beautiful, rounded handwriting. He preferred to use soft pencils or, as here, red chalk, also known as sanguine, that allowed him to draw a fluid line, precise and elegant.

Did you know?

Generally speaking, drawing is a crucial stage in Maillol’s sculptural activity. Drawing helped him to feed his imagination – not just models in his studio, but also a passing woman in the street, or a child playing there, which he fixed in a notebook or a scrap of paper picked up here or there.