French Catalan sculptor and painter Aristide Joseph-Bonaventure Maillol (December 8, 1861 -September 27, 1944), better known as Aristides Maillol, was named among his leading contemporary sculptors. The maturity of his work and the simplicity of forms made him a force to reckon with, in the French art scene. Interestingly, it was painting & fabric designing that initially fascinated him and the likes of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes & Paul Gauguin influenced him. Unfortunately, due to his deteriorating eyesight, he had to give up his love for painting and designing. As a sculptor, Maillol was limited in his choice of subjects that remained focused on the nude female body; including his most famous sculpture is “The Mediterranean.”
The artist had an association with the Mediterranean region & its waters since his early childhood, as he was born to a ship captain. His home in Banyuls-sur-Mer faced the sea, which became an inspiration in his later works. After beginning as a sculptor in 1898, in the year 1901 Maillol sculpted his most famous sculpture “The Mediterranean.” It was first exhibited at the Salon d’Automne of 1905 and was titled ‘Crouching Woman,’ and drew criticism for the artist’s lack of meaning and subject. Later, it was renamed “The Mediterranean” to indicate the vigorous beauty of the Mediterranean peasants.
Maillol’s ‘women’ have been robust, beautiful, and matured in forms, yet simple and staid in temperament, which is concretely evident in “The Mediterranean.” The larger than life statue features a well-built unclothed woman, seated with her legs bent perpendicularly to each other. She has placed her elbow on the raised left leg and using her other hand as a support from the ground. The positioning of the legs, along with various triangular shapes formed by the hands, torso, and the bent legs impart the figure, a remarkable geometric orientation.
Aristide Maillol was a master of contained emotions. He consciously kept his works free of any excesses – of forms, as well as of emotions. Neither the physical structure, nor the expressions denoted any dramatic appeal or literary interpretation. On the same lines, “The Mediterranean” portrays the pensive state of the woman only through the positioning of her hands, legs, and the angle of her head. Originally, this sculpture was set in limestone with dimensions 110.5 cm X 117.5 cm X 68.5 cm, currently situated in Switzerland. Later, its marble and bronze versions were also created that are placed in Musée d’Orsay, Paris. “The Mediterranean” marked the beginning of the most successful phase of Aristide’s career, and his similar range of works became instrumental in shooting him to international fame.