Maurice Denis and Aristide Maillol had a deep artistic bond, and they became even closer when the sculptor moved to Marly-le-Roi, near Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in 1903.
The painter greatly admired the work of his friend whose activity he supported by encouraging certain commissions. Thus, when the Russian collector Ivan Morozov asked him to decorate his Moscow music salon, Denis, who was doing the interior decoration, suggested that the ensemble be completed by statues placed in the corners of the room: Maillol’s Four Seasons, now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
The location chosen corresponds perfectly to the desire expressed by the artist at the time of the work’s conception: “This time I would like to make a woman seen as if through a subdued light, a statue that does not impose itself on the eye. [….] I would like her to be seen only when you want to look at her, like a tree: you see a tree when you look at it, but when you don’t look at it, it doesn’t impose itself. The statues of Phidias [the most famous of the ancient Greek sculptors] are like trees: they blend into nature.”.
Maillol’s “L’Été” began with a torso without head, arms or legs, and then, through a series of tests in 1911, became the sculpture “L’Été sans bras” (Summer without arms). It was almost the finalised work of “L’Été”, but was much more appealing to Maillol, who did not like arms, which he sculpted at the very end. “Arms hide the profiles”, he used to say. This can be seen here in the composition, which allows for a more complete freedom of movement that animates the figure, appearing to ripple through the torso to the lower body.
He completed the sculpture with arms in the same year for Morozov’s commission, but the plaster of “L’Été sans bras” remained for in his studio in Marly for a long time (it was still there in 1934).
The statue exhibited in Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a reproduction of the version without arms, which Maurice Denis admired when Maillol organised a public exhibition to present the commission in 1911. Maillol said: “But there is no statue where the arms do not interfere. What sculptor would even dare to imagine arms on Vénus de Milo ?”. *
Once the home of the painter, the museum was opened to the public in 1980. Created thanks to a major donation by the Denis family (1500 works), the museum is dedicated to the painter and theoretician Maurice Denis, as well as the symbolist and Nabis artists and their time.
Because of its history, its architecture and the collections it houses, the Maurice Denis departmental museum is one of the richest heritage sites in the Yvelines region. Situated on the sunny side of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye hill, it presents an original collection of works by Nabis, Symbolist, Post-Impressionist and Pont-Aven artists in the privileged setting of the eponymous artist’s former home. Dating from the 17th century, the imposing building is the former royal hospital built under Louis XIV and is now classified as a historical monument.
The painter Maurice Denis bought the house in 1914 and named it “Le Prieuré”. He already had a studio there, built for him in the garden by the architect Auguste Perret in 1912. He undertook the restoration and development of the old hospital and the garden, which he was particularly fond of. The house became a harmonious setting for his family life, and a home for his artistic and intellectual life, where he created a large part of his work and entertained many friends and students.
to find out more :
Meeting in the garden of the Maurice Denis Museum around the work, with Fabienne Stahl, Saturday June 19 at 4.30 p.m.