Two years before Maillol’s first retrospective in 1961 at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Dina Vierny and Lucien Maillol offered to donate a lead version of the “Monument à Cézanne” to the State to replace the deteriorating stone version that adorned the staircase at the Orangerie. This act was the catalyst for the redevelopment of the Carrousel and Tuileries gardens in 1964. The wishes of Dina Vierny and Lucien Maillol therefore coincided with those of André Malraux.
The Minister of Culture saw this as an opportunity to modernise the decor of the Jardin du Carrousel and to offer the “greatest outdoor sculptor” an appropriate setting for his work.
Eighteen sculptures were installed and now adorn the most visited garden in Paris. André Malraux wrote to Dina Vierny: “When the great statues are in place, they will tell Maillol that we have done our best.” The establishment of the Maillol open-air museum was a first acknowledgement for Maillol, but Dina Vierny was not satisfied with this project: she had to find a suitable “enclosed” place.
Since 1955, Dina Vierny had lived in a small flat at 59 rue de Grenelle (Paris 7e) and she started to buy the different lots of the building that were put up for sale over the years.
When Lucien Maillol died in 1972, Dina Vierny became his sole heir and thus the beneficiary of his father’s work. She felt more than ever invested in the creation of a museum and envisaged the building on the rue de Grenelle as the ideal location. She was captivated by the fountain by Bouchardon, the greatest sculptor of the reign of Louis XV, and was also aware of the history of the place, which since the 19th century has been home to important personalities: the painter Paul Baudry had his studio in the present life-size sculpture room and Alfred Musset lived there during his youth. In 1951, the cabaret “La Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons” took up residence on the present ground floor. Run by the brothers Jacques and Pierre Prévert, this café-theatre had its moment of glory in the 1950s.
On October 30 1976 Dina Vierny made up her mind: “It is indeed in the Hôtel Bouchardon, 59 rue de Grenelle, which I am buying back piece by piece […] that the Fondation Maillol will be held. I will open the whole of my collection to the public, as Mr de Sommerard did in the last century with the Hôtel de Cluny, which became the Cluny Museum. In a word, all of my collections will become public property of the French community.”
After about fifteen years Dina Vierny became the owner of the building but had to undertake work to unify the place. In 1981 she asked the architect Pierre Devinoy to carry out the work. The challenge was to harmonise and simplify the layout of the spaces and dimensions, without losing the spirit of the place.
Surprisingly, it was not the Musée Maillol in Paris that was the first museum dedicated to the sculptor to be opened: the site in Banyuls-sur-Mer was established in November 1994. Indeed, in tandem with the rue de Grenelle project, Dina Vierny had turned her attention to the restoration of the artist’s former studio in his native village, where he spent his last years. But whereas the Musée Maillol in Banyuls-sur-Mer intended to present the artist’s private and daily life, it is in the Maillol Museum in the rue de Grenelle that the whole of his work was to be presented.
When it opened in January 1995, the museum had over 4,000 m2 of exhibition space divided into 27 rooms. At the beginning, the permanent collection was composed of Maillol’s works, as well as including a part of Dina Vierny’s heterogeneous collection: the great representatives of naive art, abstract painters of the first half of the 20th century, Duchamp and his brothers, the Russian avant-garde, and contemporary sculpture.
Ci-dessous : oeuvres de la collection Dina Vierny
This taste for modern and contemporary art is also reflected in the ambitious temporary exhibitions that the Musée Maillol organised in the 1990s and 2000s. The museum paid tribute to great figures of modern European art, otherwise unknown in France, such as Giorgio Morandi who had a retrospective in 1997, or to close friends of Maillol, such as the painter Pierre Bonnard in 2000. At another level, some exhibitions have preferred to highlight other aspects of the work of great artists, such as the graphic production of Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1997 or René Magritte in 2006. The museum has also proposed comparisons between artists in order to offer an original dialogue, as in the case of “Diego Rivera / Frida Kahlo” in 1998. New approaches have also been explored; “The London School, from Bacon to Bevan” in 1999 brought together a whole generation of English painters who were not often presented in France. “Germany, the Black Years 1913-1930” in 2008 revisited the period of the First World War from a new angle, questioning the relationship between the historical event and the artist.
Until her death on 20 January 2009 – 14 years to the day after the museum’s inauguration – Dina Vierny took an active part in the life of the institution. The last exhibitions “Le Musée Maillol s’expose” and “Séraphine de Senlis” are therefore testaments to the work that Dina Vierny accomplished throughout her life.
In 2009, Dina Vierny’s two sons, Olivier and Bertrand Lorquin (deceased in 2019), became the presidents of the Fondation Dina Vierny. Together, they managed the institution and the temporary exhibitions, keeping as their main objective the safeguarding of Aristide Maillol’s work and its presentation to as many people as possible.
The museum’s permanent collection now focuses solely on the works of Maillol, in a chronological tour displayed on the second floor. It begins with his work as a decorator and painter in the 1890s, followed by his woven work and the display of small bronze, terracotta and plaster statuettes, leading to his emblematic life-size sculptures created between 1900 and 1930. The small drawings are kept separately in the graphic arts cabinet, away from the light, and the exhibition then opens onto the artist’s last period between 1930 and 1944, where paintings and large-scale drawings, most of which were made with Dina Vierny, are displayed.
The museum also continues to present temporary exhibitions devoted to modern and contemporary art, with exhibitions such as “Miró Sculpteur”, “La collection Emile Bührle”, “Pop Art – Icons that matter, collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York”, “Foujita, Painting in the Roaring Twenties”, “21 rue de la Boétie, Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Léger, Laurencin…”, “Le Monde de Steve McCurry” or more recently “Hypperrealism, ceci n’est pas un corps”.