The Museum from past to present
In 1739, the nuns of the Récollets convent graciously endowed the city with land to build a monumental fountain in the heart of this district. Edme Bouchardon, the Royal Sculptor, created the majestic Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, built between 1739 and 1745 for the glory of the City of Paris. It now forms a magnificent foreground to the façade of the museum. The whole fountain was classified as a historic monument in 1862.
In the decades following the construction of the fountain, the convent began to erect some of the building's basic structures, which are now part of the rooms of the museum.
During the Revolution, the convent was closed and the buildings were auctioned off. The various structures were sold to private individuals, and then underwent major transformations and reconstructions in the early years of the 19th century, giving the courtyard its current appearance.
In the 19th century, the building was home to some famous figures, such as the poet Alfred de Musset, who lived there for many years with his mother. The painter Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry also had a vast workshop there, which was faithfully conserved during the renovation of the museum, and which now hosts the life-size sculptures of Maillol, on the second floor.
Aristide Bonaventure Jean Maillol was born on 8 December 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer (East Pyrenees region). He was the fourth of five children to Catherine Rougé and Raphael Maillol, a fabric seller and vineyard owner. From a very young age, he was looked after by his aunt Lucie. His taste for art could be seen from his earliest childhood, and when he was 14, he completed his first painting, a seascape. He subsequently took drawing lessons at the Museum of Perpignan and decided to become a painter.
In 1882, at the age of 21, Maillol decided to follow his dream of going to Paris. He sat the entrance exam for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts several times, and was finally admitted on 17 March 1885, in the Painting and Sculpture department. His teachers were Jean-Paul Laurens, Gérôme and of course Cabanel. During this period he experienced great poverty. Malnourished, he became ill and was hospitalised several times.
Disheartened with the teaching of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and very impressed by the art of Paul Gauguin and Maurice Denis, who met and encouraged him, Maillol became interested in tapestry. He regularly exhibited his tapestries, sculptured wood, miniatures and enamelled terracotta at the Gallery of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1895, he set up a tapestry workshop in Banyuls.
He met Clotilde Narcis, who became one of his models, at his workshop. They married in Paris on 7 July 1896. On 30 October the artist's only son, Lucien, was born in Banyuls-sur-Mer. He also became a painter.
Maillol often invited his friends, known as the "Nabis" or "Prophets", to his home: Maurice Denis, Ker Xavier Roussel, Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and later Henri Matisse. These artists would remain close friends throughout their lives. Maillol then began working exclusively on sculpture. He made terracotta pieces that were much admired by his friends, and were depicted in several of their works.
In 1902, Ambroise Vollard organised the first solo exhibition of Maillol in his small gallery on Rue Laffitte. It was a composite collection of 33 works, whose goal was to surprise and appeal to art lovers. The art seller Ambroise Vollard purchased a few of his sculptures. Despite these sales, the artist's finances remained on a knife-edge. In 1904, Maillol exhibited in the Salon d'Automne for the first time. The art critic and historian Meier-Graefe devoted a chapter to him in his book on modern art.
On the advice of Auguste Rodin, Octave Mirbeau and Maurice Denis, Count Harry Kessler, a rich art collector, met with Maillol in Marly. Kessler became his greatest admirer and his patron. Maillol said on many occasions that this meeting was one of the great fortunes of his life.
Maillol had his first major success at the Salon d'Automne in 1905 with the Méditerranée (Mediterranean) plaster sculpture. Kessler commissioned a monumental stone version of this sculpture from Maillol, a high relief piece called Le Désir (Desire), then a half life-size sculpture, Le Jeune Cycliste (the Young Cyclist). His friends Gustave Geffroy and Octave Mirbeau got him a commission for a monument from Auguste Blanqui, called l'Action enchaînée (chain reaction). He did a portrait of Renoir in 1907 in Cagnes and he also worked on the sculpture La Nuit (The Night).
Maillol exhibited a plaster statue called Pomone at the Salon d'Automne in 1910, which had considerable success in the international art press. The Russian collector Morozov bought it, and commissioned three more sculptures: L'Eté (Summer), Le Printemps (Spring), La Flore (Flora).
Maillol was also commissioned by Cézanne to produce a monument for the town of Aix-en-Provence. It was moved to the Tuileries Garden in Paris in 1929.
Maillol's first solo exhibition outside of France was held in the Netherlands from 13 April to 4 May 1913. It included 8 very large sculptures, plaster models, Pomone, Flore, 5 drawings and 60 photographs of other Maillol pieces by Eugène Druet. The same year, several of his pieces were exhibited in the US, at the famous Armory Show. In 1928, he exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in London, then in Berlin, at Flechtheim. In 1933, he had a major exhibition at the Brummer Gallery in New York. The same year, a retrospective was dedicated to him at the Kunsthalle in Basel.
In 1934, Aristide Maillol, at the peak of his fame, met Dina Vierny who was then 15 years old. She soon became his model and close collaborator and continued to work with him until his death. Between 1937 and 1944, Maillol produced the monumental sculptures L'Air (Air), La Montage (Montage), La Rivière (River) with Dina as his model.
Dina Vierny worked hard to bring the works of Maillol to a wider audience, and to create a museum dedicated to him.
Maillol retired to Banyuls in September 1939. He wanted to escape the folly of mankind. He lived alone in the mountains and began painting again. He began work on his final statue, Harmonie (Harmony), which he never finished. With the help of Dina Vierny, he began preparing an inventory of his oeuvre. He did a lot of drawing and painting.
On 15 September 1944, Maillol decided to visit Raoul Dufy in Vernet-Les-Bains. As Dr Nicolau was driving him there by car, they were involved in a serious accident. Maillol's jaw was damaged. He could no longer talk. He died at home of uremia in Banyuls on 27 September.
In 1951, the Prévert brothers opened a cabaret, the Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons, in the great exhibition hall with standing columns on the ground floor. It was here that Boris Vian, a regular visitor, created Le Déserteur (the Deserter); Francis Blanche presented his sketches; and the Jacques brothers and Yves Montand sang the poems of Prévert, put to music by Kosma. A plethora of young artists made their débuts here: Maurice Béjart, Guy Bedos, Pierre Perret, Jean Yanne, Philippe Clay, Jacques Dufilho, and many more.
In 1955, Dina Vierny, a model and collaborator of Aristide Maillol, bought an apartment in the building to live in. Gradually, over the course of the next 30 years, she managed to purchase all of the buildings on site.
Dina Vierny and Lucien Maillol donated Maillol's sculptures to the country. André Malraux, the Minister for Cultural Affairs, decided to put 18 of them in the Jardin du Carrousel, opposite the Louvre. It was a true "open-air Musée Maillol".
After 15 years of renovation work, as Dina Vierny wanted, a museum dedicated to Maillol finally opened its doors on 20 January 1995. Inaugurated by the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, it presented the largest ever collection of the artist's works, giving a complete picture of his oeuvre in terms of sculpture, painting, drawing, terracotta and tapestry. Dina Vierny entrusted the leadership of the museum and the management of temporary exhibitions to her sons Olivier and Bertrand Lorquin until 2009.
Between 1995 and 2015, many exhibitions were held in honour of great figures in the History of Art: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Morandi, Basquiat, Bacon, Keith Haring, Poliakoff, Rauchenberg, Bonnard and more.
Closed since 15 February 2015, the museum reopens in September after important work, with an exhibition in honour of the artist Ben Vautier.