It seems strange that one's image of Aristide Maillol is that of an elderly man, of the master of Banyuls-sur-Mer as the bearded patriarch living his solitary existence. The idea of Maillol as a youth is one which never comes to mind, though his work richly exudes the exuberance and fecundity of whatever is truly young.
In this respect, as in so many others, the sculptor Maillol is comparable to Renoir, whose portrait he modeled superbly. Both maximized, late in life, a union of sensuosity and innocence which characterizes their work. Both were passionately fond of the beautiful, even of the pretty, and achieved a voluptuousness and bursting fullness which epitomizes the joy a poet finds in all nature. Both were especially involved with the rhythm of the female form. Maillol wrote, "Girlhood with its fresh bloom, its flowerlike innocence, its confidence in life, is for me the world's greatest wonder."
During Maillol's lifetime, his sculpture underwent less of an evolution than Renoir's painting, however. Maillol seemed always to have been at one with a Classical harmony, a Classical grace, a pure vision. The absence of turmoil and conflict which marks Maillol's sculpture and drawing is as fascinating in terms of his life as in regard to his work. Rouault, too, maintained a constant and intensive vision throughout his career, but the difference in temperament here is immense. Maillol, working until 1944 with a turn-of-the-century ardor, seemed to exist in a rapport with nature usually thought of in connection with the highest days of Greece. His sculpture is at once sophisticated and naive. In this sense it represents civilized man at his most refined and inspired, completely without artifice and without the vaguest notion of what corruption is all about.
Maillol once wrote to a friend, "I would have made a bad prose author. Poetry resembles sculpture so much more...." These words express perfectly the spirit of the sculptor. He was never involved with circumstance, with anti-climax. His work, in part or in whole, constitutes an ode, clear, direct and without dissonance.
The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts is a pleasure to see. Such an extensive collection of Maillol's work has not been put together in many years. Many of the works come from the Maillol estate and, in fact, are available. The sculptor allowed only six copies to be made of each plaster cast and authorized these alone. The examples represented are mostly the product of these original editions. There are also quite a few drawings and these are no less fine.
Maillol's sculpture has seldom been shown in Boston, the museum points out. It is good to see Aphrodite and the muse hand in hand behind enemy lines.