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Maillol et la peinture


Maillol and Painting

In an art history that likes to confine artists to a single field of specialization, the relationship between sculpture and painting is a complex one.



Maillol and Painting

Le rapport entre sculpture et peinture, dans une histoire de l’art qui aime enfermer les artistes dans un seul domaine de spécialité, est complexe.


A l’origine : un artiste-peintre

In the beginning: a painter


While Aristide Maillol considered at the end of his life that he had achieved his goal in sculpture, he was less certain about his pictorial work. He remembered the first time he discovered colour: while still a child, a green caiman on the cover of a school brochure gave him his first shock. And one of his earliest known works was a view of the port of Banyuls painted on his aunt’s dining room oilcloth, which he cut out in secret; the whole family marveled and praised his talents, until the hole in the oilcloth was discovered! But from then on a young Maillol wanted to become a painter, and his Aunt Lucie gave him the means to study in Paris.


If Maillol kept his pictorial output to a minimum throughouthis career, it was undoubtedly due to bad experience at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts when he first arrived. The artist enrolled as an auditor and found the teaching provided by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jean-Paul Laurens and Alexandre Cabanel to be arid and devoid of meaning: “I didn’t learn to draw, nor did I learn to paint. Poorly taught or not taught at all, we understood nothing about art.” The young artist turned to the contemporary art scene for inspiration and direction.

ill 1. Paysage des Pyrénées-Orientales, 1885-1886, oil on canvas, 46x55 cm collection particulière.

ill 2. Autoportrait, 1884, oil on wood, 33x24 cm, Musée Maillol.

“ Il se souvient de la première fois où la couleur s’est révélée à lui : encore enfant, un caïman vert sur la couverture d’une brochure d’écolier lui confère son premier choc. ”

Aristide Maillol

ill 4. Portrait de Mademoiselle Jeanne Faraill, 1888-1889, oil on canvas, 150x103 cm, collection particulière.

At first, around 1885, he took refuge in his friendship with Achille Lauge (1861-1944), soon joined by Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). The two artists painted together “still lives, many apples”, as Maillol would say, “I have painted more apples than Cézanne, without having seen a Cézanne…”. At the same time, when he returned to Roussillon, Maillol set up his easel in the countryside and painted the landscapes of his native region, where the pleasure of the brushstroke is combined with fiery color [ill. 1].


Finally, he produced his first Self-Portrait in 1884 [ill. 2] which he placed under the aegis of Courbet, with its chromatic range organized around browns and grays and its vigorous, pasty brushstrokes. But Maillol was still finding his feet: he copied Puvis de Chavannes with L’Histoire de Sainte Geneviève, for example. [ill. 3]. 


The artist was looking for work to earn a living, and found his first commission in Albert Faraill, who asked him to paint a portrait of his daughter Jeanne: Maillol’s first commission and first masterpiece! The Portrait de Mademoiselle Jeanne Faraill [ill. 4] bears witness to a strong awareness of the movements of modern painting: the light palette, the freedom of color tone and the split brushstrokes are very much in the taste of Impressionist painting.

ill 3. Copie d’après Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Histoire de sainte Geneviève, 1887, oil on canvas, Fondation Dina Vierny -Musée Maillol.

Il témoigne d’une attention forte aux mouvements de la peinture moderne : la palette claire, la liberté du ton coloré et la touche fractionnée sont tout à fait dans le goût de la peinture impressionniste.

Aristide Maillol

Les années 1890 : le temps de la peinture

The 1890s: a time for painting




This initial impetus towards a mastered and assertive style of painting blossomed when he came into contact with the work of Paul Gauguin and Maurice Denis. From the former, he learned the evocative power of flat colors and the ability to synthesize motifs, a decisive factor in his sculptural art. From the second: he perceived the power of decorative line. Jeanne Faraill always served as his model. In Portrait de Jeanne Faraill au chapeau [ill. 5],he painted her in profile on a gold background in a small format, like a small icon. He also produced ambitious, large-format works in which the female figure is captured in idle activity, such as Femme assise à l’ombrelle (Seated Woman with Parasol) [ill. 6]. In the same year, alongside this young girl in bloom, he produced more severe portraits, such as that of Tante Lucie [ill. 7] in which the style of the work adapts to the model’s character.

ill 6. Femme assise à l’ombrelle, c. 1892, oil on canvas, 130x162 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny Musée Maillol.

ill. 8 Jeune Fille cueillant des herbes, 1894, oil on wood, 42x34 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny -Musée Maillol.

ill. 10 Portrait de Madame Maillol, 1894, oil on canvas, 47x39 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill. 12 La Vague, c. 1891-1898, oil on canvas, 95,8x88,2 cm, Petit Palais – Musée des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris (© Petit Palais / Roger-Viollet).

ill 5. Mademoiselle Jeanne Faraill au chapeau, 1890, oil on canvas, 46x56 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny Musée Maillol.

ill. 7 Portrait de tante Lucie, 1892, oil on canvas, 175x131 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

In 1895, the artist joined the small Nabis group and met Clotilde Narcis, an assistant in his tapestry workshop (whom he married in 1896), who provided him with a readily available female model that the artist enjoyed creating and recreating in various paintings. Jeunes Filles cueillant des herbes (Young girls gathering herbs) [ill.8], Femme au bord d’un torrent, le premier nu (Woman by a stream, the first nude) [ill.9] or Le Portrait de Madame Maillol (Portrait of Madame Maillol) [ill. 10] are representative of Maillol’s aesthetic research. His paintings from this period also bear the mark of his taste for objets d’art, and he produced a number of designs for tapestries where the Nabi influence is strongly felt, as in Esquisse pour “Concert de femme” (Sketch for “Concert of a Woman”) [ill. 11].

ill. 9. Femme au bord d’un torrent, le premier nu, 1890, oil on canvas, 54x81 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill. 11 Esquisse pour la tapisserie « concert de Femme », 1894, oil on canvas, 46x50 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

Maillol’s painting is based on the placement of the female figure in space, delineated by an elegant line, bringing him closer to the decorative preoccupations of the Nabis. However, he retained a personal approach, lending solidity to the painting with a dense brushstroke, more in line with mosaic or tapestry.


But by the 1900s, Maillol no longer recognized himself in the art of painting. He told his patron, Count Kessler: “I asked myself, why am I painting, for what purpose? Why not something else? I could no longer see what my painting had to do with life.” In this search for “something else”, Maillol, approaching forty, began his adventure with sculpture. La Vague (The Wave) [ill. 12] embodies this transition: from an ornamental vision in which the bather merges with the marine element, Maillol initiates an architectural relationship between the body and space through the almost square format of the canvas.

La recherche du monumental

Back to painting: the quest for the monumental




Between 1900 and 1930, Maillol devoted most of his time to sculpture. He abandoned painting, but nevertheless produced numerous drawings. Towards the end of his life, however, his pictorial creativity underwent a true revival, fueled by all his experience as a sculptor. Maillol practiced his art in complete privacy, with the support of his young muse Dina Vierny, whom he met in 1934. Dina au foulard (Dina with a scarf) [ill. 13] demonstrates a representation of the human body full of volume and solidity, enhanced by the colours and sensualized by the brushwork.



He also paid tribute to his inspiration while retaining his singularity with Le Grand Nu jaune (Large Yellow Nude) also called Hommage à Gauguin (Homage to Gauguin) by the artist. [ill. 14]. While this nude female figure in a wheat field may indeed recall the gestures of certain paintings by the master of Brittany and the Marquesas Islands, it is striking to see that it constitutes an inverted counterpart to Ondine or Dans les vagues (In the Waves) [ill. 15] : Maillol’s vision of a woman seen from the back in a wave is composed of a cool chromatic palette, while his vision of a woman seen from the front in a wheat field is enhanced by warm-tones. 

Despite his experience and recognition, the artist remained somewhat hesitant about his paintings. In 1943, Bonnard came to visit him and wanted to see his paintings. Maillol asked him: “Have I made any progress?”

ill. 14 Le grand nu jaune ou Hommage à Gauguin, 1943, oil on canvas, 100x62 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill. 13 Dina au foulard, 1941, oil on wood panel, 110x95 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill. 15 Paul Gauguin, Dans les vagues, 1889, huile sur toile, 123x106 cm,
Cleveland Musem of Art (© Cleveland Museum of Art)

ill. 15 Paul Gauguin, Dans les vagues, 1889, oil on canvas, 123x106 cm, Cleveland Musem of Art (© Cleveland Museum of Art).


– Judith Cladel, Maillol, sa vie, son œuvre, ses idées, Paris, Bernard Grasset, 1937.

– Collectif, Nabis, 1888-1900, catalogue de l’exposition, Zürich, Kunsthaus, 28 mai au 15 août 1993, Paris, Galerie nationale du Grand Palais, du 21 septembre au 3 janvier 1993, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993.

– Bertrand Lorquin, Maillol peintre, catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, Musée Maillol, du 6 juin au 20 octobre 2001, Paris : Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol en coédition avec la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 2001.

– Antoinette Lenormand-Romain, Ophélie Ferlier-Bouat Aristide Maillol, 1861-1944, la quête de l’harmonie, catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, du 12 avril au 21 août 2022, Zürich, Kunthaus, du 7 octobre au 22 janvier 2023, Roubaix, La Piscine-Musée d’art et d’industrie André Diligent, du 18 février au 21 mai 2023, avec le partenariat exceptionnel de la Fondation Dina Vierny – Musée Maillol, Paris : Gallimard, 2022.

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Musée Maillol, 2021

Mentions légales | CGU | Données personnelles | Gestion des cookies

Musée Maillol, 2021

Musée Maillol, 2021