En cours
A Venir
Collections en ligne
Restaurants et privatisation


Maillol and Tapestry

Moving beyond painting to tapestry: training at the Banyuls-sur-Mer workshop



Maillol et la tapisserie

Dépasser la peinture par 
la tapisserie : la formation de l’atelier de Banyuls-sur-Mer


During his training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1890s, Aristide Maillol frequented the Louvre and the Musée Cluny. The young artist was destined to become a painter, but he gradually began to question the purpose of painting. Contemplating the series of wall hangings of La Dame à la licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) was a real turning point for him and he decided to devote himself to tapestry, in order to breathe new life into his practice. He saw the technique as a solution to two problems. On the one hand, he could work on the insertion of several figures in space, creating more ambitious compositions. Secondly, tapestry allowed Maillol to distance himself from reality, as he no longer applied the colour with a brush, making it appear slowly, point by point, and hue by hue.

Maillol began producing tapestries in his native Banyuls-sur-Mer in the winter of 1893, where he opened a small workshop with two employees, sisters Angélique and Clotilde Narcis [Ill. 1]. The following year, he exhibited his first tapestry at the Salon de la Libre Esthétique and Gauguin commented, on his Jeunes filles dans un parc (Young Girls in a Park) [ill. 2], “that we cannot praise it enough”. Unfortunately, the work is almost illegible today due to the degree of wear and tear, but an early photograph shows its aesthetic qualities. In it, Maillol depicts six female figures set in a richly ornamented landscape – whereas he always limited himself to one or two figures in his paintings. A preparatory drawing in a sketchbook shows that the rhythmic work of the arabesque line was fundamental for Maillol [ill. 3]. However, Maillol did not break with his pictorial practice, since he worked on the composition from sketches and paintings. A comparison of the tapestry, Concert champêtre (Country Concert) or Concert de femmes (Women’s Concert) [ill. 4] with its cartoon [ill. 5] allows viewers to see that Maillol makes colour the very material of the work, applied with a smoothness and chromatic intensity that fades in the wallpapered version.


ill 1. Clotilde and Angélique Narcis in Catalan costume, c. 1900, charcoal on paper, 100x81 cm, Neuss, Clemens Sels Museum.

ill 2. Jeunes filles dans un parc, 1894, needlework, 140,3 x 201, 5 cm, phtotogrpah ancienne – Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 3. Dessin préparatoire pour « Jeunes filles dans un parc », c. 1894, graphite on paper, page from a notebook, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 4. Concert champêtre ou Concert de femmes, around 1895, tapestry, wool, silk, linen and silver thread embroidered on linen, 160 x 208 cm, provenance : Princesse Hélène Bibesco. Copenhague, Det Danske Kunstindustriemuseum.

ill 5. Esquisse pour la tapisserie « concert de Femme », 1894, oil on canvas, 46x50 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

D’une part, il peut travailler l’insertion de plusieurs figures dans l’espace en réalisant des compositions plus ambitieuses. D’autre part, la tapisserie permet à Maillol une mise à distance de la réalité, car il n’applique plus la couleur au pinceau et la fait ainsi apparaître lentement, point par point, et teinte par teinte.

Aristide Maillol

ill 6. Carton de tapisserie : Fille à la balançoire, 1896, oil on canvas board, 19,5 x 22,7 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 8. Danse de jeunes filles ou Cueilleuse de pommes, c. 1892, 34x30 cm, oil, gouache and traces of graphite on paper mounted on canvas, coll. part.

“ Les débuts de Maillol sont ainsi étroitement liés au regard de Rodin sur son art ”

Aristide Maillol

Although the number of known tapestries by Maillol has now been reduced to nine, a large number of cartoons have been preserved, giving an idea of his willingness to experiment and the productivity of his workshop. There is a notable thematic coherence: the subject of the female figure is omnipresent: alone [ill. 6], in idle groups [ill. 7] or engaged in recreational activity [ill. 8]. Once the composition had been found in paint, the workers would embroider the work. Some of Maillol’s sketches and photographs of this workshop give us an idea of its studious atmosphere [ill. 9 et ill. 10]. The artist and his studio didn’t make tapestries in the strict sense of the word, but rather embroideries in thrown stitch, a very simple technique that can be carried out by people with little experience.

ill 7. Carton de tapisserie, Trois jeunes filles, 1894, oil on wood, 16,5 x 24 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 9. Femme brodant, c. 1896, blood on paper, 30 x 18.5cm, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum.

ill 10. L’atelier de tapisserie de Maillol à Banyuls, vers 1895, photographie, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol

La tapisserie chez Maillol : entre retour aux sources et nouvel art

Maillol's tapestry: between a return to basics and a new art form

Maillol’s ambition was to revolutionise the art of tapestry in the 1890s: “I had the idea of reconstituting the beautiful old tapestry because the Gobelins had taken it to the ultimate level of stupidity”.


Tapestry was at the heart of a “quarrel” at the very end of the 19th century: young modern artists criticised the Manufacture nationale des Gobelins for the artificiality of their productions, which were content to copy historical paintings. This was not enough for Maillol, who was sensitive to the specific visual characteristics of tapestry, which obeyed different aesthetic criteria to those of easel painting. Tapestry could not be conceived according to the principle of mimicry and trompe-l’œil, because it must not contradict the architectural setting in which it was inserted.So the art of tapestry had to reduce its palette to a few tones, eliminate perspective, present figures in flat tones with no volume effect, and delimit the image with a border. Maillol was also aware of the artisanal aspect of tapestry and no longer wished to use chemical dyes. The shimmering colours in Le Jardin enchanté [ill.11] were created using natural pigments derived from plants that the artist himself picked while walking in the mountains around his studio. The luxuriant vegetation in this work, in which a bird is nesting – a rarity in Maillol’s work – is directly inspired by the medieval tapestry known as “millefleurs”. He was so interested in the tapestry that he jotted down his ideas and intentions for it in a notebook [ill. 12 et ill. 13] presumably with a view to writing a book.


In his desire to abolish the hierarchy between painting and the other arts and to renew artistic language through a new aesthetic, Maillol shared the same aspirations as the Nabis group. It was even Maillol who inspired these artists to becoming interested in the art of tapestry. However, he readily admitted that he owed a great deal to Edouard Vuillard, “the Nabi zouave”, with whom he had spent time at the Musée de Cluny and who had introduced him to his first clients, enabling his tapestry-making business to become almost viable.

ill 11. Le Jardin enchanté, 1899, tapestry, embroidered wool with metal thread, silk and cotton trim applications, 196 x 107 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 12 & 13. Pages from the notebook « Notes, la Tapisserie », c. 1895, Fondation Dina Vierny – Musée Maillol, on the right : handwritten notes ; on the left : study of a female figure in the Le Jardin enchanté.

Maillol possède les mêmes aspirations que le groupe des Nabis. C’est même lui qui suscite l’intérêt de ces artistes pour l’art de la tapisserie.

Aristide Maillol

Les tapisseries de Maillol : 
une diversité stylistique

ill 14. La Nymphe, 1898, tapestry, wool embroidery, 50 x 76 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

Maillol's tapestries: stylistic diversity

It was thanks to Edouard Vuillard that Maillol met Princess Hélène Bibesco, who commissioned him to create the Concert champêtre ou Concert de femmes. [ill. 4] In this tapestry, three musicians entertain a young woman leaning against a tree behind them. The subject, inspired by medieval courtly scenes, was an appropriate choice for the princess who received the commission.

Maillol’s tapestry displayed great stylistic diversity in just one decade. La Nymphe [ill. 14] is highly stylised, with a crimson-red background on which a golden garland and flowering baskets frame a female figure holding a headscarf, all arranged symmetrically. The decorative aspect of the work is explained by its original function as a seat cover. This arrangement of figures and motifs on a plain background, found in Les Trois Jeunes Filles (The Three Young Girls) and Danseuses à l’écharpe (Dancers with a Scarf) [ill. 15], is a sign of the artist’s attention not only to medieval tapestry, but also to Byzantine silks, where the simplified design of the forms enhances the expressiveness of the colours. 

ill 15. Les Trois Jeunes Filles – Danseuse à l’écharpe, 1898, tapestry, wool embroidery, 45 x 65 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

ill 16. Musique pour une princesse qui s’ennuie, c. 1902, tapestry, wool, silk, linen and silver thread embroidered on linen, 163 x 179 cm, provenance : princesse Hélène Bibesco Copenhague, Det Danske Kunstindustrimuseum.

ill 18. Femme au bain, 1903, haut-relief in plaster, 93 x 103 cm, Musée d’Orsay (© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Jean Schormans).

ill 19. Maillol at his tapestry loom, c. 1895-1900, photograph, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

“ Les débuts de Maillol sont ainsi étroitement liés au regard de Rodin sur son art ”

Aristide Maillol

ill 17. La Baigneuse ou La Vague, 1899 , tapestry, needle embroidery with throw stitch, 101 x 92,5 cm, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol.

In what is undoubtedly his last great tapestry, Maillol renews his conception of the figure in space. Musique pour une princesse qui s’ennuie (Music for a bored princess) [ill. 16] was another commission from Princess Hélène Bibesco. Although the subject is similar to that of Concert champêtre or Concert de Femme [ill. 4], Maillol gave the figures a strong sense of volume. The musicians and the princess have a massive silhouette and are set in a landscape where the path creates a sense of depth. Similarly, he used contrasting tones to give the impression of shadows, creating a three-dimensional effect of the bodies and objects in the tapestry. With this in mind, La Vague (The Wave)  [ill. 17] is very similar to Maillol’s sculptural work. The solid silhouette of the bather, set in a narrow square space, is reminiscent of contemporary sculptures [ill. 18].The full forms of the female figure foreshadow the triumph that was to follow with his sculpture Méditerranée at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.


At a time when his business allowed him to make a small profit, and was able to buy a high-smoothing loom on which he worked with pleasure [ill. 19], Maillol temporarily lost sight in his right eye, with the risk of going blind. His doctor advised him to stop working for two months, but Maillol decided to give up tapestry for good and turned fully to the art of sculpture, which he had begun experimenting with on wood to pass the time while his assistants were weaving.

Maillol would say that this decade, during which he devoted considerable energy and time to tapestry, was the happiest period of his life.

Deux Baigneuses, c. 1895, wool embroidery, 90x90 cm, Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum (© Hessisches Landesmuseum).


  • Embroidery: Ornamental work carried out by hand or machine, consisting of passing threads (of cotton, silk, gold, silver or wool) using a needle or hook over a fabric marked with a design.
  • Throw stitch: An embroidery technique that is simple and easy to use, giving the embroiderer a great deal of freedom. It involves passing several threads of fabric over or under each other.
  • Tapestry: A work of art designed for wall decoration, made up of hand-woven panels on a loom using wool, silk and gold. It differs from embroidery in that the pictures and subjects represented are integrated into the weave of the fabric itself.


– Aristide Maillol, lettre à Guillemot, avant le 10 mai 1893, archive du Musée Maillol.

– Paul Gauguin, « Exposition de la Libre Esthétique », Essais d’Art libre, février-avril 1894, tome V., p.30-34, disponible en ligne sur Gallica : https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148

– 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.

-Isabelle Cahn, les Nabis et le décor, catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, du 13 mars au 30 juin 2019, Paris : Musée du Luxembourg et Réunion des musées nationauxGrand Palais, 2019.

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

Découvrez aussi

La conquête des Etats-Unis

La conquête des Etats-Unis

La conquête des Etats-Unis

Découvrez aussi

Prenez le meilleur du Musée Maillol en devenant membre

Subscribe to our newsletter

Follow us on our social medias

Mentions légales | CGU | Données personnelles | Gestion des cookies

Musée Maillol, 2021

Mentions légales | CGU | Données personnelles | Gestion des cookies

Musée Maillol, 2021

Musée Maillol, 2021