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The Bather, or the Wave

Aristide Maillol (1861-1944)

1899, wool embroidered using the ‘point d'Orient’ technique, also known as the ‘point de majolique’ or ‘point de couchure’ technique.

Why is this work so important?

This piece of embroidery, produced in 1899, is particularly interesting because of Maillol’s highly personal technique. As is usual in his work, he used a limited range of colours and abandoned any notion of perspective, but in this work the artist went further; he decided to simplify the lines and transform the masses into swathes of colour.

Tapestries

For around ten years, from 1893 to 1903, Maillol devoted a great deal of his time to tapestry. The Bather or The Wave is a work dating from the end of this period. Right from the beginning, he was encouraged by Paul Gauguin and managed to sell a few works. But to move forward with his new passion, he had to drum up more commissions. But it so happened that, at that time, decorative art was highly fashionable. To satisfy the demand, he hired two sisters for his Banyuls workshop: Angélique and Clotilde. Maillol designed the tapestries, and the sisters made them. He would begin by setting down the composition on a small cartoon, trying out colours on studies painted in oils or body-colour. For this particular tapestry, he made a full-size preparatory charcoal drawing. Before that, he had even carved a plaster relief of the same subject, in more or less the same format.

In detail

Observe how stylised the waves are. In doing this, Maillol stayed as close as possible to the decorative character of tapestry, as it existed in the Middle Ages. “I want to depict calm, and isolation, a disdain for the banal,” he said.

Did you know?

Despite his attachment to this technique and the great success he had with it, he was forced to give up tapestry in 1903, as he was suffering from serious problems with his eyesight. It was at this point that he switched full-time to sculpture.