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PC 1970.67
Aristide Maillol
French (1861-1944)
Wood Nymphs
Woodcut, c. 1950 (published)
99 x 119 mm

PC 1970.68
Aristide Maillol
French (1861-1944)
Wood Nymphs (printed in red)
Woodcut, c. 1950 (published)
99 x 119 mm

Throughout his life, Maillol was inspired by his hometown, Banyuls, France. On the Mediterranean coast just north of the border of Spain, the region had a rugged beauty formed by the junction of the sea and the Pyrenees Mountains. Maillol felt a deep connection with the land and the soil, and he felt its power through its simplicity and its vastness. The physicality of materials was important in Maillol’s artistic development, too.  Originally intending to pursue painting, Maillol was later drawn to woodcuts because of the effort required in physically cutting the wood and working with a raw material. 
           
In 1881 Maillol moved to Paris in hopes of establishing himself as a painter.  After four years the École des Beaux Arts finally accepted Maillol, and in 1885 he entered the academy.  Although he enjoyed painting, he also had experience in tapestry design.  In 1893 he opened a tapestry studio back in his hometown of Banyuls; he also continued to paint. He attempted his first sculpture in 1895.  Sculpture would become Maillol’s main artistic medium; however, this was not fully realized until about 1900 when Maillol developed eye strain.

In sculpture Maillol often depicted the female nude, and he often used his wife or peasants as models. His intrigue with the weighty female figure is partly due to his respect for the classical traditions of Greek and Roman art.  Maillol was especially concerned with finding beauty in volume.  He wanted to create an impression of massive structure that was simple yet powerful.  Maillol’s work is in contrast to the sculptures done by Rodin.  Rodin emphasized internal emotion that is made visible in his figures. Maillol conceived of his sculpture in the round, without literary associations or surrounding architectural elements.

Maillol expressed similar ideas in his prints. The technique Maillol used in woodcutting is called “black-line” woodcuts, in which the printmaker cuts away the areas that are meant to be left blank when printed. This technique has been in use at least the fourteenth century and was very popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but afterwards it fell out of favor until Gauguin revived it at the end of the nineteenth century.  Maillol greatly admired Gauguin’s work in both painting and prints, and was very much influenced by his simple, strong lines.  

In 1908 Maillol stopped in Naples while on his way to Greece, and he was impressed by how similar the landscape around Naples was to that of Banyuls. While in Naples the landscape inspired him to illustrate Virgil’s Georgics, which contains the Wood Nymph woodcut.   Virgil’s didactic poem focuses on aspects of rural labor in four books. Wood Nymphs is in Book IV, which deals with beekeeping; it deals with Aristaeus, the shepherd, and his need to appease the nymphs with sacrifices. During the visit to Naples Maillol made some preliminary drawings and shortly after arriving home, he began to cut the images on woodblocks that he got from an old pear tree on his Banyuls property. Although Maillol began the series in the early part of the century, the entirety of Georgics was not complete until 1944 due to the interruption of World War II, and it was not published until 1950.  Even though these images illustrate a theme, Maillol was adamant that he was not an illustrator.  He stated, “I detest illustrated books.  I do them because I do not consider line engraving on wood to be illustration; drawings done in this way are the equivalent of typographical characters.  I believe that they’re typography.”

C.E. 2009

References

Appelbaum, S.,  Aristide Maillol (New York: Dover, 1979)  i,x.

Chilvers, Ian. "Maillol, Aristide." The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online. 30 Nov. 2009 <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/opr/t118/e1567>.

Lorquin, B.,  Maillol (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995), 132.

Waldemer, G., Aristide Maillol (Greenwich : New York Graphic Society), 99-100.