Aristide Maillol Biography

Aristide Maillol




Painter, sculptor, and printmaker Aristide Maillol was born in Banyuls-sur-Mer, a small fishing village in Rousillon, France, on December 8, 1861. Self taught to begin, Maillol did not receive formal lessons after he'd moved to Paris in 1881, living for four years in poverty while teaching himself to paint and applying to various schools. He was accepted by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1895, where he studied under painter and sculptor Jean-Leon Gerome and portraitist Alexabre Cabanel. Following completion of his studies and a general distaste for the strict teachings of the formal atmosphere, he discovered the art of Paul Gaugin at an art show at Cafe Volpini. This would change the trajectory of his style and career; he soon became acquainted with the artist, who would encourage Maillol's career.

In 1893 Maillol opened a tapestry workshop in Banyuls, executing his own designs using top quality techniques and fibers. He had joined Les Nabis, an artists' group that included Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard, among other, and was dedicated to exploring French modernist styles and the Art Nouveau decorative movement. He held his first major group show with them in 1895 and his tapestry work quickly gained recognition and popularity. Declining eyesight, however, made the fine detail work of tapestry too challenging, and it wasn't long before Maillol began working in terracotta sculpture. By the end of the 19th century he was working almost exclusively in sculpture and he would become known for his works of the female form in stone and bronze, featuring ancient, classical ideologies of structure, made modern by a lack of decoration. This would transfer to his printmaking, as well. 

The far reach of Maillol's influence was such that it was felt throughout Europe and America, inspiring sculptors throughout the Second World War. His work was among those looted by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce (E.R.R.), Nazi-sanctioned looters who appropriated works from private collections in Germany and France. While 13 works were returned following the war, 33 works were recorded taken by the E.R.R.

Maillol received various major commissions throughout his career, among them a monument to Cezanne in 1912, followed by memorial sculptures for fallen World War I soldiers. In the mid 1920s he was commissioned to illustrate Vergil's Eclogues (also known as the Bucolics) using his signature, simplified imagery rendered in woodcut; in 1937 and 1939 he was commissioned to illustrate Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and Paul Verlaine's Chansons pour elle, respectively.

Aristide Maillol died in a car accident in 1944.

His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Guggenheim Museum, NY; Haus der Kunst, Munich; and the Musees Maillol, Paris and Banyuls-sur-Mar, among many others.