Founded in 1995, The Foundation Dina Vierny – Musee Maillol is located in a townhouse at 61 Rue de Grenelle, in the 7th arrondisement, just off the Blvd. Saint-Germain. Dina Vierny, who later became a succsesful art dealer in her own right, was Maillol’s model for the last ten years of his life. When they met, Maillol (1861-1944) was 73 and Vierny, (1919-2009) was 15. Their relationship, though close, was entirely platonic.
The museum houses close to 400 sculptures, drawing, and paintings of Maillol, in addition to Vierny’s collection of 20th century art, including works by Gauguin, Bonnard, Redon, and Kandinsky. There are also regular, ongoing new exhibitions.
Throughout his artistic career, Maillol was focused on the young female form. At the end of the 19th century, Maillol got his start as a painter and decorative artist. Gauguin was an enthusiastic friend and early supporter of his work. Maillol is credited with single handedly reviving the art of tapestry in France.
Maillol’s influential position in the development of modern sculpture came from his reworking of classical Greek forms with a unique element of simplicity, and a heroic sense of equipoise, of innocence, and a profound, timeless feeling of peace. In many ways he was the mirror image of his good friend Rodin. His work had none of Rodin’s often tortured element, and his sensuality was never carnal. His females were full of joy and a healthy, youthful pride.
Maillol was a wonderful draughtsman. You can see the directness, simplicity and even, the sympathy of his touch.
Vierny said that Maillol, while worshipping the naked body, was a “pure ”
man who treated his models with great respect. In fact, he was rather shy and never explicitly asked the models to undress. Vierney initially posed fully clothed, and was the one, herself, to instigate posing nude. In discussing an early work with her looking downward, she explains,” Do you know why I’m looking down there? I’m looking down because I was in school – I had homework to do. So he built a little stand for me, on which I could put my books, and I would study while he worked.”
The harmony, mass, and balance of his forms have a grace that is very rare in the history of art. It has been said that, ” his works are heroic yet subdued; masterful, yet crude, classical yet primitive, elevated yet humble, obvious yet profound… he produces a void where the simple classical abstraction of the human form can communicate epic poems from a place of immortal stillness.” This simplified formal vocabulary and attitude was a huge influence on Giacometti, Moore, and all the modernist sculptors that followed.
The serenity and calm joy of his work could not have a better setting than this intimate townhouse.The contrast of his massive figures in this charming environment is particularly evocative. In using new materials and old, the rooms feel ancient yet contemporary. Many of the smallish rooms have rounded brick or stucco walls, conveying almost the feeling of a monestary or small fort. Spiral staircases in glass and steel are beautifully positioned, and blend old and new seemlessly.
Maillol was known for his sweet and sunny disposition. At the beginning of WWII, Dina had helped several artists and intellectuals escape the Nazis. She was actually arrested at one point. Fearing for his dear friend, he send her off with a letter of introduction to Matisse, in the south of France. There, she escaped the worst of the war and developed a close friendship with Matisse as well as modeling frequently for him. Maillol said in the letter, ” I am sending you the object of my work, and you will reduce her to a simple line.”
Dina’s later success as an art dealer and love and respect for Maiilol, was mixed with the urging and encouragement from Matisse to see through her great dream of a permanent museum to celebrate Maillol’s legacy, as well as her own. She has created one of the most profound and warm smaller museums in the world. It is a great treat, which I look forward to, and avail myself of, everytime I go to Paris. I also recommend it to everyone I know. It’s worth a trip just to walk the quartier and spent some time inside this incredible gem, amidst the warm glow of the great achievement of Aristide Maillol.