A pyramid can be a cruelly deceptive thing—a promise of immortality, a pledge of permanence, an earnest of fame. I.M. Pei’s pyramid—with its three subsidiary pyramids and its flat-based, triangular, minimalist fountains—may have solved for a generation or so the question of what to put at the heart of the Louvre, how to fill the Cour Napoléon. But nobody who has glanced at the history of this space can possibly feel that this solution will last forever, or even for very long. To believe this would be to subscribe to some theory of the death of the history of taste.

For the Louvre is continually transforming itself—why should it suddenly stop now? Skip back a couple of generations and we find the Cour Napoléon (from 1907 to 1933) home to a “Campo Santo,” with trees and flower beds and monuments to the great—statues of Corot, Poussin, Houdon, Watteau, Puget, names that were never expected to suffer any casual slight.1 Also on this prestigious spot stood an American work, Paul W. Bartlett’s monument to Lafayette, which had been erected “by the school-children of the United States,” and was a project of the Daughters of the American Revolution.2

At the entrance to the courtyard was a substantial monument, 24 meters high, to the republican leader Léon Gambetta (1838–1882), for which 280,000 citizens, of France and all its colonies, had subscribed. It was in stone and bronze, and its allegorical figures—Strength, Truth, Democracy—were melted down during the Vichy regime. After the war, its stone remnants were put in storage, later to be re-erected behind the mairie of the 20th arrondissement, with the euphemistic inscription: “Detail of the Gambetta monument.” The word “detail” in this context means that Gambetta has been deprived of his left arm, while two of his companions have mislaid their heads.

Near where Gambetta once stood, Pei has accommodated the square’s only statue—a replica in lead of Bernini’s marble equestrian figure of Louis XIV. He could hardly have chosen a better memento mori, a better antidote to the hubris of sculptor and architect. For Bernini was one of Pei’s predecessors on the job—he spent the summer of 1665 designing an extension to the Louvre, only to find his plans frustrated and rejected through the intrigues of the court.3 When his equestrian statue arrived in Versailles, the king hated it so much that at first he wanted to have it smashed into pieces. It was banished to a far corner of the garden. Bernini had represented Louis as having mounted, like Hercules, the steep hill of virtue and glory. (The hill, of course, supported the weight of the horse.) In 1688, a mere three years after the statue’s arrival at Versailles, the sculptor Girardon took his chisel to the hill of glory and transformed it into lambent flames. The headgear, too, he changed, turning the French king into the Roman hero Marcus Curtius. As a result of this ingenious editing, a figure which was once climbing a hill is now jumping into an abyss.4

Leaving the Cour Napoléon, we approach the small triumphal arch of the Carrousel, which once served as the entrance to the Tuileries Palace. The palace itself was deliberately torched in 1871, left in ruins for a decade and then, amazingly enough, razed to the ground. The Jardin du Carrousel has just been laid out afresh by Jacques Wirz, with handsome yew hedges and notices to tell you that these hedges will have reached their appropriate height in time for the millennium. Indeed all the gardens from Pei’s pyramid to the Place de la Concorde will have been done over by then. When I walked round in February, the old quincunxes of sweet chestnuts were being felled in the Tuileries, and there were further notices to explain just what was being done and why—to forestall, no doubt, the outrage people feel at the destruction of a tree.

What remains of Le Nôtre’s Tuileries gardens is essentially the layout of the two great ponds and their subsidiaries, and the terraces that flank the space; a very few of the earliest statues remain, but none, of course, of the original plantings. They have been transformed again and again as is inevitable in a formal garden.

Less inevitable is the bloody history of the statues in this century. Some were destroyed for political reasons. The occupying Germans took out a monument to the First World War nurse Edith Cavell. The Vichy government, on a patriotic pretext (the recycling of non-ferrous metals), destroyed a large number of works which, as the Louvre study already cited put it, expressed a particular idea of the nineteenth-century left, that “every citizen can become a hero.” Just as the French Revolution decapitated the saints of the church portals, so the Vichy government sent the famous men of the nineteenth century to be melted down. General Leclere’s division did further damage, during the liberation of Paris, and the 1950s took their toll as the gardens were used for various festivities.5


Then came André Malraux, minister of cultural affairs from 1959 to 1969, and the clean-out began in earnest. It is ironic that the prejudices of Malraux should have combined with the destructive zeal of Pierre Pradel, conservator of sculpture at the Louvre, at a moment in history when the nineteenth century was just about to be reassessed, when the Gare d’Orsay was just about to be conserved and made into a museum. The first plans for the Musée d’Orsay were made in 1973, within Malraux’s lifetime. But the mind-set of Malraux and Pradel seems to belong to a completely different era.

It is not that the sculptures they threw out would all, otherwise, be on display in the Musée d’Orsay by now. What shocks the authors of the Louvre survey is that Pradel, charged as he was with conserving this collection of work, should instead have dispersed and destroyed it. Everything from 1820 to around 1900, judged from Pradel’s “scientific point of view,” was valueless and should be sent to the provinces. Perhaps certain of the better things could be used to occupy “the upper parts of certain Paris monuments, to fill empty niches”—but the rest, with very few exceptions, were to go, and not just to go but to be struck from the inventories.

Robert Doisneau must have had an affection for all this familiar statuary, for he had photographed the marbles of the Tuileries in wartime, when they lay in a protective trench, and he has a picture dated 1964 showing the departure of three of these doomed pieces. The photograph is entitled “Removal of the statues from the Ed. Guillaume garden to make way for the Maillols.” From the Louvre study one learns that the figure on the left has been destroyed, that the one in the middle was sent to Amboise and is now missing, while the one on the right languishes in a state of general erosion in Maubeuge—about as near to a Belgian exile as one could get.6


At the time of these glyptic purges, Lucien Maillol, the sculptor’s son, and Dina Vierny, who inherited the Maillol estate, approached Malraux with an offer. Concerned about the neglect and poor placing of Maillol’s Monument to Cézanne, then in the Tuileries, they proposed to donate a lead cast of it, and have the original transferred to the Musée National d’Art Moderne. The discussion went further. Vierny, who as a young woman had been Maillol’s model and the mistress of his final years, possessed the plaster originals of the sculptor’s major figures. These she would put at the disposal of the state, which would make casts of them. A Maillol museum would be created in the Jardin du Carrousel. A Maillol museum in the open air—eighteen pieces in all—at the very heart of Paris! One can hardly think of a more prestigious location.

From the start, the deal was to be exclusive. Maillol alone was to enjoy this space, and indeed when a stray Rodin ventured onto the turf it was chased off, by a protest from Vierny, within forty-eight hours. And the exclusiveness of the deal, and the readiness of the state to pay for the casts (not a small matter—a proposal to cast Rodin’s Burghers of Calais for the Tuileries in 1975 came to nothing when the foundry presented an estimate of 936,000 francs)—these are striking evidence of, at least, Malraux’s conviction of Maillol’s greatness.

Those who have their misgivings about Rodin’s work will nevertheless be happy to concede that, given the mythic status of Rodin and the unparalleled fame of certain of his creations, a Rodin museum (or two or three)7 is well justified. Those for whom Maillol’s hefty nude women are more hilarious than classic might well think it excessive that Maillol also has three museums to his name: the Carrousel garden, one in his home town of Banyuls (south of Perpignan, near the Spanish border), and the new one which opened in Paris last year in the Rue de Grenelle.

But France is generous, if haphazard, in its allotting of museums to sculptors, and Paris has museums for Rodin, Maillol, Zadkine, Bourdelle, and Picasso. David Sylvester mentioned in these pages (April 4) the protracted row over Brancusi’s bequest of his studio and its contents to the nation. In the winter of 1997, for the fiftieth anniversary of this legacy and the twentieth anniversary of the Pompidou Centre, a replica atelier, with its own little garden, will be opened and the public will be able to view Brancusi’s studio, without, however, being able to enter it.


It seems in general to help, certainly if you are a Dead Male Sculptor, if you possess a determined female friend of great character. Rodin had one such in the writer Judith Cladel (who published biographies of both Rodin and Maillol).8 She it was who persuaded the government not to allow the Hôtel Biron and its garden to be sold for redevelopment, but to found a museum there in the year before Rodin’s death. She also gathered and made inventories of the thousands of drawings scattered around the artist’s studios. And she performed thoughtful tasks such as persuading Rodin to marry his mistress of fifty years, Rose Beuret, shortly before Rose’s death. (“You always have such good ideas,” said Rodin to Judith when she brought the matter up.) This allowed Rose to die happily, but it also was designed to ensure that Rose became heir, and that Rodin’s estate, which had been bequeathed to the nation, would not instead go to some hidden mistress who might be lurking somewhere with a will tucked into her suspenders.

Mutatis mutandis, Maillol appears to have had a similar doughty supporter in Vierny. Not only did she persuade Malraux to hand over the Carrousel garden. She also, last year, opened her own foundation and Maillol Museum not far from the Rodin Museum, in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

The façade of the Hôtel Bouchardon could not be grander. It consists of the Fountain of the Four Seasons which the sculptor Edmé Bouchardon created in the mid-eighteenth century and which was known as “la trompeuse,” the deceiving woman, because, for all its wealth of statuary and ornamentation, it had only four small faucets to provide water for the neighborhood. Behind this beautiful semicircular structure lies a distinctly unclassical warren of rooms, which have been adapted to display various collections that are the product of Vierny’s work, first as a model (she posed for Maillol, Matisse, Bonnard, and Dufy) and later as a gallery owner.

There is a representative collection of Duchamp’s ready-mades, including the porcelain urinal signed R. Mutt. There are naive paintings from this century, abstract paintings, contemporary work from Russia, including a sizable installation. There is space for temporary exhibitions, currently devoted to Serge Poliakoff. And then there is the large and absolutely representative collection of Maillol’s paintings, drawing, sculptures, and maquettes, his work in pottery, his tapestries, the furniture he carved and decorated—everything, including a small mock-up of an atelier, with some of those plaster originals.

What Vierny appears not yet to have done is to make the Maillol papers available to scholars. This is apparent both from Bertrand Lorquin’s short book, and from the essays in the catalog of the German exhibition. Lorquin, with one major exception, tells the story much as we know it from other published sources. The relative absence of original information is surprising and intriguing really, since Lorquin is both head of the Maillol Museum and Vierny’s son. The German catalog, by contrast, is full of original work, and it draws heavily on one great unpublished source: the early diaries of Count Harry Kessler, the rich German collector who was Maillol’s most important patron. These diaries have been published only for the interwar years, but Kessler kept a journal most of his life (1868–1937) and carefully recorded his conversations with Maillol over a period of thirty years, beginning in 1904.9

Kessler appears never to have met Vierny, although he met another of Maillol’s young girl-friends, and it is a great pity that Vierny herself has not seen fit to publish her memoirs, since she has a remarkable story to tell. What follows has been put together from Kessler and a number of published sources, including the memoirs of the Nazi sculptor Arno Breker, who saved Vierny’s life.10 Breker’s memoirs are egregiously written, and come with a health warning. Nevertheless, they are supported in essential outline by at least three sources, including Maillol himself. My intention is simply to demonstrate what an interesting biography of Maillol could be written, once the archive is opened. But maybe we shall have to be patient. After all, the Rodin archive was only made available to scholars in 1973, and besides, there is no obligation on Vierny’s part to set out her private life for the benefit of scholars. Her museum alone makes one feel, from time to time, an intruder.


As sexual beings, Rodin and Maillol were alike in this: they were utterly devoted to the female body, and this devotion intensified with old age. In sculpture, Rodin’s women were the first to reveal their full sex (as opposed to a euphemistic version of the mons veneris). No one had opened her legs like this—certainly no one had opened her legs in the manner of Iris, Messenger of the Gods. Ruth Butler in her biography of Rodin quotes a tribute from the feminist writer Aurel:

If there is any art in the world that has ceased to be unisexual, that calls upon human sensibility, that is women’s as well as men’s, if there is an art drenched with feminine force, one that draws an extra keenness from that, that has violence, a spur, an art that is the male child of woman, it’s Rodin’s…. Our mothers told us, “Men like weakness!” But this man prefers force…. In Rodin’s presence, a woman dares to be free and to give up pretending. She ceases playing at being prey, the sweet plaything that costs dearly and yields up smiles for Monsieur. She can embrace her grandeur and her autocracy. She looks grand in her nobility by which humanity mounts to its true nature. She becomes an animal.11

This is the Rodin who encouraged his female models to roll around on the studio floor pleasuring themselves, and each other.

But there was a complementary side to Rodin. After all, his reputation had been founded on a series of scrupulously observed male nudes, and founded also upon a new relationship between sculptor and model. The model played an active part in devising the pose. Auguste Neyt, the Flemish soldier who posed for the statue eventually known as The Age of Bronze, had, he later said, “to go through all kinds of poses every day in order to get the muscles right. Rodin did not want any of the muscles to be exaggerated, he wanted naturalness.” So they worked together two, three, four hours a day, for more than a year, over which time they became good friends.12

What was established was a form of intimacy, but one would hesitate to describe the transaction between the two men as homoerotic. It was a collaboration, not a seduction. To call it homoerotic would be to stretch the term beyond its useful meaning. Rodin wanted to portray universal man, as a physical, sexual, spiritual being. That was his subject, not his furtive agenda. He was deeply involved in the portrayal of the male nude, perhaps at first because he saw it as a peak to be conquered, a way of securing a place among the immortals of art.

Later, when he wished to express the notion of genius, he was so drawn by the belief that genius and sexual potency were intimately connected that he devised a pose for Balzac in which the left hand grasped the right wrist, while the right hand grasped the erect penis. This is the figure known as Balzac “F” Athlete (there is a cast of it in Brooklyn), which was then wrapped in a dressing gown to create the final monument. How sculptor and model arrived at it (or whether the model was required to demonstrate an erection) we do not know. One feels though that Rodin was engaged in portraying the man of genius enjoying his own potency, not the man of genius as an object of lust. 13

However one defines Rodin’s interest in male sexuality, Maillol didn’t share it. That chip was missing. Maillol liked portraying Woman; he knew early on in his career as a sculptor what he meant by Woman, and the rest of his life was spent in variations on that theme. Other sculptors flailed about, looking for new ways of idealizing the feminine. Maillol knew exactly what he meant by the ideal. “Sculpture,” he once said, “is a masculine art. It has to be strong. Without that, it’s nothing.”14 And so when he made women, he made strong women.

And every subject turned into the same thing. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about the commission to Maillol for the monument to the French revolutionary leader Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881). Maillol was approached by Clemenceau. The sculptor asked what sort of man he would be commemorating. “Clemenceau launched into an hour-long account of Blanqui’s revolutionary career and the numerous years he had spent in prison for his ideals, at the end of which he asked the sculptor what his idea was for the monument. ‘I’ll make you a nice big woman’s ass and I’ll call it Liberty in Chains.’ Delighted with this reply, Clemenceau immediately presented him with the seven thousand francs the committee had been collecting.”15

Maillol is also supposed to have scandalized the committee by saying that his wife (his early model for his nudes) was better looking than Blanqui anyway. Clearly there were many jokes made about the fact that whatever commission you put Maillol’s way, the result would be one of these hefty women. The Mediterranean is a woman. Thought is a woman. All the seasons are women. The Ile-de-France is a woman. And they are all recognizably Maillol women. Once, when teased about the Blanqui memorial, he said: “Faced with the monument to Julius II, do you think about Julius II or about Michelangelo?”16 Faced with a Maillol, we are clearly supposed to think about Maillol.

Maillol was one of an impressively large group of artists who were influenced to turn in the direction of sculpture by Rodin’s retrospective show, which coincided with the Exposition Universelle of 1900.17 Earlier he had been a painter, one of the Nabis, and he developed a strong interest in the arts and crafts, designing tapestries whose production he oversaw himself. Born in 1861, he was well into his forties before success came his way, but when it came it came immediately and in very full measure. Rodin thought Maillol a genius. The critics Octave Mirbeau and Julius Meier-Graefe were soon onto his case. André Gide wrote of the terra cotta La Méditerranée:

She is beautiful. She has no meaning. This is a work of silence. I believe one must go far back in the history of art to find such a perfect disregard of everything which could detract from the manifestation of beauty.

And he made the most extravagant comparisons between Maillol and Rodin and the great figures of past and legend.18

What these early admirers saw was a quality which Maillol himself wanted them to see—an ancient simplicity, something that reminded them of ancient Greece and, more specifically, of archaic, simple qualities in Greek art, something essential. Maillol could imagine his figures rolling around on the ocean bed, ground down by the action of water and sand, until they reached their essential form, after centuries of abrasion. Such a process would, he thought, destroy the essence of a Rodin, but reveal the essence of a Maillol.

And one has to remember that what the early critics praised in Maillol was the small-scale work, because nothing on a large scale yet existed. Mirbeau expressed the hope that one day it might, and that there might be buildings worthy of accommodating such sculptures. As yet, however, what was being admired was in large part the promise of a new sculpture. One supposes that Rodin (though not an envious man, a generous promoter of others’ work) could admire Maillol as his successor because nothing had been stolen from him, and nothing had been stolen from him, and nothing was done in a hostile spirit. Maillol had never worked for Rodin, and did not have to rebel. But he had to distinguish his work from Rodin’s. Practically all his conversations with Kessler about sculpture are of the form: I do this, whereas Rodin does that.


When Rodin, Mirbeau, Maurice Denis, and Gide all brought Maillol’s work to the attention of Count Harry Kessler, they did both patron and sculptor a great service. Maillol had always lived on the brink, and his recent work in tapestry for Princess Bibesco had had to come to a halt because his eyes could not take the strain. One has to remember that Maillol had known what it was like to be on the verge of starvation. Now a rich patron came his way, and he put himself out to please.

Kessler was the son of an ennobled industrialist. His schooling had been in Paris, then at a prep school near Ascot which readied its charges for Eton, and finally in Germany, culminating in military training in Potsdam. He was trilingual, and moved restlessly between his three homelands, but it was his German identity that meant most to him. Because he was painted by Munch, and was known in the Twenties as the Red Count, because he patronized artists such as Grosz, Beckmann, and Heartfield, one imagines him as having been more of a revolutionary than he was. In fact, he was proud of his nobility, he was a Prussian conservative in the time we are talking about, and he shared many of the prejudices of his caste.

But he was deeply queer, and most probably deeply repressed. He certainly does not want the reader of his diaries to know what he was up to, when he was up to something, and his biographer Peter Grupp supposes that there were probably only two long-term sexual liaisons in his life. Kessler’s emotional energy was directed toward art, both as a patron and as a would-be writer. In the latter role he was deeply disappointed, and his ambitions were at times an embarrassment to his associates. Hofmannsthal and Kessler spent a weekend sketching out the scenario for Der Rosenkavalier, which Hofmannsthal went off and wrote, and which he wanted to dedicate to H.K., “the hidden friend.” Kessler was deeply hurt. He thought he had been the co-author of the script. He thought he had dramatic gifts which perfectly complemented those of Hofmannsthal, that Rosenkavalier could not have been written without him. Hofmannsthal found all this absurd and self-deluding, and Kessler’s discovery that his friend had no regard for him as an artist brought their friendship to an end.19

The story of Kessler and Maillol has no such tragedy—Kessler obviously could not suppose himself to be a sculptor. The comedy of their friendship derived from the fact that Kessler, early on, identified the one disappointing defect in Maillol (his utter lack of interest in the male nude), and set about remedying it. Maillol was a peasant, more or less, a Catalan from the Roussillon coast—a Phoenician, if you like, practically speaking an ancient Greek. Everyone (not just Kessler) goes on about the ancient Greekness, the Mediterranean quality of Maillol’s art and of his homeland.20 And yet, amazingly enough, there were no kouroi, no comely youths, in his repertoire.

Kessler bought his first Maillols, a couple of small bronzes, in 1903. The next year he met the artist, on August 21, and soon commissioned an enlargement of La Méditerranée, the first large-scale commission Maillol received. On August 25, Kessler is back at Maillol’s studio on the outskirts of Paris, and he pops the key question: Why does Maillol always do female figures and not men? “Oh,” says Maillol, “because I don’t have a model. Now Rodin—he can pay for as many models as he wants; but us other artists—we usually have to make use of our wives.”

This is a feeble enough excuse—Rodin was poor as a church mouse during his early career; it was only much later that he adopted the habit of having more than one model wandering around the studio, to provide inspiration for poses. Still, Kessler notes down the reply, and the wheels start to turn in his mind. A week later, he and Maillol set out for London, where they are to visit the Elgin marbles. They talk about Rodin. Maillol says how well Rodin does the details—a leg, a forefinger—

but the ensemble, the great lines, that’s all the same to him. When he shows antiquities—he has beautiful fragments at his place—he sometimes says, “It’s decorative.” And he passes by. He’s not interested in that. It’s decorative! Me, I’m quite the opposite—that’s my point of departure, from the great, decorative line. When you view a Rodin from afar, it’s small, very small. But sculpture forms part of the air all around it. Rodin has a Buddha at his place, well placed on a socle, in his garden, in front of a circle of small shrubs. Well, it’s as big as that [showing it very small] and yet it’s as big as the sky. It’s immense. It fills everything.

They stop at Calais to view the Burghers, which Maillol has never seen. “It’s good,” says Maillol, “it’s very good. Who was it who told me it was badly done? It’s badly placed, that’s all. That’s obvious. You have to see it from close to”—the Burghers had been placed too high, with railing around—“it’s not decorative. But how well Rodin has expressed what he wanted to say….” And he later, at the Cecil Hotel, sends Rodin a postcard of appreciation.

Maillol speaks of how he came to look at antiquities. “I wanted to see how the ancients came to terms with reality. I looked at a woman’s head outside, in the street, then I went into the Louvre and looked at an antiquity, and I saw how they had come to extract the beauty from life. When I look at an antiquity it always seems to me that it must be very easy to make sculpture. But when I look at modern sculpture, it seems complicated, difficult.”21

The next day, during their visit to the British Museum, Maillol relates a remark of Odilon Redon’s that had pleased him. He had said of one of Maillol’s sculptures that it was “severe and voluptuous.” That was the quality he sought, but that he should also consciously feel that one must start and end with something decorative—that is a little more surprising.

In the evening, Kessler takes Maillol down to Whitechapel to watch the boxing. This is a favorite pastime of Kessler’s—he has been there only the previous month, noting that the excitement of the crowd was in proportion to the amount of blood spilled. Now Maillol gets excited too: “I’d never have believed that would thrill me like that. This is the way one ought to see the nude, not with some wretched model making conventional gestures.” And he sketches away, saying finally:

I’ve worked a lot tonight, and learnt a lot. I will make a group of fighters like that. But before the fight—when they are facing each other. That’s how one should do them—in repose. I’m happy to have seen that. It’s given me the idea, how to do nude men. Without that, in our day, it’s hard to see the right way to do the nude male.

The next morning, after an early trip to the National Gallery, they breakfast at the Savoy, and Maillol returns to the subject of the boxers:

That’ll stay with me. I’ll never forget that. It’s not like those pimps in Paris—you felt they were really into it, that their passions were truly involved, a young race who fought together for exercise like the Greeks of Homer. They weren’t men, they were gods: They had that expression—their necks were so proud, so beautiful, and then those mouths, those terrible open mouths, which seemed to give out flames….

And on, and on. Whether Maillol really meant it, or just knew that this was what Kessler wanted to hear, is unclear. But it is hard to believe him when he says, in conclusion, that from now on he will only do men, that there’s something wrong with women:

With women there’s something round and soft. Men are more beautiful. But what I’d always lacked was the way to use them. With a woman—one gesture and it’s immediately a statue. With a man, a gesture is ridiculous. But now I’ve seen, yesterday, those fighters—that’s a subject.

And if this weren’t enough to whet the count’s appetite, Maillol concluded: “And then there’s another, a young shepherd who looks at his thighs and finds himself to be beautiful….”

Later the same month Kessler was back in London again, and back in Whitechapel for the boxing, noting the names of some possible models: “For Maillol I noted Tom Denver, Fred Wilson, Danny Moore, George Davis (8 sh.).”22 Eight shillings, one supposes, being some negotiated price for a modeling session…or something. Later in the diary, we find Kessler going off to Whitechapel even when the boxing’s not on. He just wanders the streets and the public houses, or so he says. He must have cut quite a figure.


The idea that Maillol had brought up, of the young shepherd who looks at his thighs and finds himself to be beautiful, did however bear fruit. You could see this as a description of the woodcut Hylas in the Fountain, which Maillol made as one of his illustrations to Virgil’s Eclogues (a Kessler commission), or as the germ of the idea for a statue of Narcissus, which began to be executed in 1907. Maillol was now working on at least four projects for Kessler, for two of which he required a model. One was the relief called Desire, in which a man attempts to embrace a woman. The other was the Narcissus. Maillol spoke to Kessler of his difficulty in finding a model. He didn’t want an Italian, he said, because they were too pretty, but rather what he wanted was a young French peasant, a bit squarish, eighteen or seventeen years old. The trouble with French peasants, he said, was that they didn’t like posing in the nude. As for the relief, he added jokingly, if he couldn’t find a model he’d pose for it himself.23

Kessler needed no prompting. Within a fortnight he had found a young cyclist and jockey by the name of Gaston Colin. Maillol agreed that he would pay him five francs a day, and Kessler would pay “the remainder.” But a few days later, the count is clearly shocked: Maillol has made good progress with the relief, but he has only used Colin for the head; for the body of the male he has chosen a model called Gaborian—a good-for-nothing prizefighter from St.-Germain. Still, Kessler tells Maillol that this nude is nearer to nature than his earlier work. Maillol:

But, that’s of no importance. What’s important is that there should be some feeling [sentiment] in it. There are some delicious primitive things that have very little of nature in them. But they’ve worked so much and they’ve worked to express the feeling, which has become something exquisite. Feeling replaces knowledge….

Then Maillol shows Kessler the nude study of little Colin. “I’ll shorten the legs a little,” he says, “and I’ll strengthen the arms, but this (indicating the chest) and the back are quite pretty. Look, it’s curious, he has breasts just like a young girl.”24

Now Kessler begins to visit Maillol regularly, armed with his camera, and as Colin poses—nude but for his shoes and socks—Kessler prowls around the studio recording the sessions and pasting the photos in his diary. The notion of Narcissus has been forgotten. Maillol has clearly sensed that what Kessler wants is a portrait of Colin, and he comes up with a justification for it. The ancient Greeks, after all, used to put up statues in honor of their athletes. This will be a statue in honor of a racing cyclist.

Sculptor and patron examine the model, and discuss the difficulties of the art. They peer closely at the pit of his stomach: “Every instant it’s different,” says Maillol, “look here. Now it’s like this…and in an instant it’s completely changed—there’s nothing left. You have to look really close to be able to do anything at all.”25 Or, looking at the left side of the thoracic cavity: “Look here, you’d say there was an enormous muscle, but if you look really close, you can’t see a thing. Nature makes its effects with nothing, and then sculptors (holding a great lump of clay in his hand) do it like that. What you need to work with is almost nothing. Only, it takes a long time to find it.”26

In between sessions, Kessler was conducting an elaborate courtship of Colin, taking him on trips to Fontainebleau and Barbizon, going swimming, getting Colin to drive him to the châteaux of the Loire, and eventually visiting the Channel Islands in his company. But none of the love affair goes into the diary. Only art is talked about.27

When the bronze of The Cyclist was cast by Bingen, Cladel tells us that Kessler arrived at the foundry, saw the cast—which had only just cooled and was waiting to be chiseled—and found it so beautiful just as it was that he jumped in his car and took it straight to show Maillol. Shortly afterward Bingen arrived in a panic, saying the statue had been stolen. “There it is,” said Maillol, “an admirable cast. Someone took it, did they? A good thing too, otherwise you would have ruined it with your file.”28


One of the problems Maillol often discussed with Kessler was the placing of a sculpture. It seems that it was important for him to know where a thing was going to go, before he could decide what it was going to be. “In another age,” he said, “sculpture had a place. The sculptor knew for whom he was working.”29

In a sense, although Kessler was always trying to lure Maillol in some inappropriate direction, he did provide, directly and indirectly, the answer to this problem. Kessler helped introduce Maillol to an international clientele who were, nevertheless, a close-knit group. As the German catalog points out, many of them were clients of the interior designer Henry van de Velde (another Kessler protégé). The photographs of Kessler’s apartment in Berlin and his home in Weimar are interesting because they show what the ideal ensemble was for this group: furnishings by van de Velde, sculptures by Maillol, paintings by Maurice Denis—that would be the target, the Look. It would go very well in the German villas of the period, and in a spacious Berlin apartment. At its very grandest it was found in the music salon of the Morosov Palace in Moscow, for which Maillol made his Four Seasons and Denis painted his cycle The Story of Psyche.

This bringing together of geniuses from different fields was a Kessler speciality, an obsession. He was that kind of patron, and that kind of patron is fine when he knows what he is up to (finding the right librettist for a composer, the right translator for a certain poet, and so forth) but in for a disappointment if the impetus is simply to bring Genius A together with Genius B and see what happens. It’s okay if all you are expecting is an interesting dinner party, but if your assembled geniuses are supposed to do something extraordinary—to perform, to mate, to sparkle in some sublime way—this is a recipe for embarrassment.

Kessler had the idea that if he could get Maillol, Hofmannsthal, van de Velde, Denis, and the painter Jószef Rippl-Rónai all together in Greece—well, it would be like Raphael’s School of Athens. It would be extraordinary. It would—well, it would—well…you know… (sharp intake of breath) it would be extraordinary.

He managed to get Maillol and Hofmannsthal to agree.30 In April 1908 he and Maillol set out from Marseille, saw Naples and Pompeii, and by the time they arrived in Athens were getting along famously, particularly since Maillol (being, as previously noted, essentially an ancient Greek himself) felt at home in the landscape since it was just like that of Banyuls. But Hofmannsthal, meeting up with them, found it impossible to get on. Their conversation was in French. He couldn’t enthuse about the Greek landscape. He was disappointed.

And he made a terrible mistake. Hofmannsthal borrowed a book from Kessler’s luggage without asking, and Kessler went into such hysterics that one wonders whether Hofmannsthal had come within an ace of finding some incriminating item, some photograph of Colin, some Whitechapel keepsake. Kessler couldn’t believe that he had allowed anyone who was so far from being a gentleman to come anywhere near him; he could only explain the difference between his sense of tact and Hofmannsthal’s as coming from the racial difference between them. It was a Jewish thing. (Hofmannsthal had, in fact, one Jewish grandparent.) Although this quarrel was patched up, Hofmannsthal left Greece ten days early.

Kessler asked Maillol what was the concrete reason why they had both loved Greece. Maillol said: “That’s very simple: it is the place in the world where everything I love was created….” Kessler said that das Griechentum represented for him a world view in which every feeling, every thought had its place, nothing was forbidden or ruled out.

Toward the end of the stay, Maillol, who knew how to sing for his supper, began sketching the bathers on the beach. Then he decided he would model a figure, and they persuaded a youth called Angelos to pose. A studio was improvised, clay found from an ancient, traditional source, and Maillol modeled his second male nude. (By this time Kessler seems to have run out of film.)

When it was all over, and the two men parted company in Naples, and Kessler had at least had the privilege of introducing his sculptor to some of the archaic masterpieces of Greece, and had ordered a bronze of Angelos and had bought marble for a life-sized statue of Colin—when, in other words, much had been achieved, Kessler lapsed back into an exhausted rage. For a while, he couldn’t bear Maillol, the way his peasant origin was always coming through. Maillol was always eating with his fingers and spitting bones onto the carpet. He walked like a peasant, with long careful strides, scouring the ground right and left, as if looking for some fruit or weed. He had a peasant’s eye for the main chance whenever it came to money—he always let other people pay, for carriages, drinks, entrance tickets, and so forth. And it wasn’t that Kessler minded paying. It was the way Maillol had of forcing others to cough up, the little tricks and dodges he discovered, so as never to be there when money had to be put on the table, and the pleasure he took in these petty triumphs. Really one had to conclude, Kessler wrote, that he belonged to another level of society.31

Of course, there must be another side to this story. Maillol must have a point of view, must occasionally—one guesses—think: oh no, not again, when Kessler has one of his enthusiasms, when Maillol sees himself maneuvered into yet another encounter with the male nude.

The last of these was potentially, for Kessler, the most spectacular. There was a plan to erect a Nietzsche memorial in Weimar (Nietzsche was behind Kessler’s philhellenism) which would have a temple and a statue of the superman. And who better to model for the superman than Nijinsky, and who better to make the model than Maillol? Indeed, who else would be capable of executing such a commission?

Maillol began making difficulties. “Have you seen him naked?” he objected. “Is he not plump? What’s beautiful for other people often isn’t for the artist, if he has an idea in his head. The model has to correspond to the idea that the artist wishes to execute.”32 But when he saw Nijinsky on stage, he admitted that he was the embodiment of Eros.

Diaghilev and Kessler brought Nijinsky to the studio, but Nijinsky was too self-conscious to model in front of them, and they had to leave. Maillol made sketches, one of which is in the Berlin exhibition, but the project soon after fell through—much to Maillol’s relief.33


Kessler was a bibliophile and publisher of luxury editions. Maillol, with his arts and crafts background, was in sympathy with this side of his patron’s interests, and he spent some time researching a method of making fine paper. The result was so successful that Kessler set up a business producing the art paper, for which Maillol designed a watermark with their initials: MK. The factory was near Maillol’s studio in Marly-le-Roi, and was run by the sculptor’s nephew.

In 1914, Kessler (whose full-scale La Méditerranée had still not been finished) sent a telegram to Maillol apparently warning him to bury this statue, since war was approaching. In the atmosphere of the times, this was taken to indicate treacherous intent on Maillol’s part. At the beginning of January 1915, Arsène Alexandre wrote an article called “Their Artists, Spies and Secrets,” in which he revealed that Maillol’s studio in Marly had been found to be lined with concrete (presumably proof that it was really a bunker), and the story was taken up by Alphonse Daudet in Action Française. “The war will rid us,” he said, “among other things, of the art of Munich, of the German secondhand espionage trade which managed the sale of pictures and objects of art here in Paris.”34 The paper mill was burned to the ground, and Maillol was nearly killed. He spent the war in an agony of apprehension about his son, who was a flyer, and was practically unable to work. After the war, he did very little work for a while excepting on war memorials.

Maillol and Kessler did not meet up again until 1922, and from then on their collaboration was confined to work on the luxury editions which Kessler was producing at his Cranach Press in Weimar. Kessler would come to see Maillol in Banyuls, and would simply sit over him until the woodcuts were done. He regretted treating a great artist in this manner, but it appeared to be the only way of getting work out of him.

By 1930 Maillol’s marriage was getting rough. His wife was extremely jealous of a young model, Lucile Passavant, with whom Maillol was working, and she was right to be jealous. Maillol was besotted, and when Kessler invited him to Weimar, Maillol accepted on behalf of himself and Lucile. Kessler had no scruples about deceiving Clotilde Maillol: “For the past thirty years his wife has, with her insane jealousy, stood in his way and prevented him from ever having an acceptable model. He has had to make do with all sorts of random photographs and magazines devoted to nudes.”35

A few days after Kessler wrote this, Clotilde caught Maillol and Lucile together in some sort of embrace. She rushed into the studio and tore up the large nude studies of Lucile, then went dark red in the face and passed out. It took Maillol and Clotilde’s sister four hours to bring her to, but when they did so she was, according to Maillol, as sweet as a lamb. Clearly she had appalled herself by her own behavior.

So now the two old men set off on their adventures again; this time it was Maillol who was being given the alibi for an affair. They were seen off from Paris by his son Lucien. At Reims, by arrangement, they were joined by Lucile. Kessler was keen to show off a little of Germany, and if there is any touching moment in his published diary it is the scene at Frankfurt where Kessler shows Maillol the stadium:

We sat on the terrace overlooking the swimming pools and watched the bathing and sunbathers. Maillol was in raptures about the unabashed nudity. He continually drew my attention to the splendid bodies of girls, young men and boys. “If I lived in Frankfurt, I would spend my days here drawing. Lucien must absolutely see this.” I explained to him that this is indicative of only a part of a new vitality, a fresh outlook on life, which since the war has successfully come to the fore. People really want to live in the sense of enjoying light, the sun, happiness and the health of their bodies. It is not restricted to a small and exclusive circle, but is a mass movement which has stirred all of German youth.36

Kessler when he said this had less than three years left to live in Germany. In March 1933 he would leave from Frankfurt, and find out in Paris that he could never safely return. In 1937, practically destitute, his property sold and his collections dispersed, he would die in exile in France. But just for the moment he still had the highest of hopes. Maillol, Lucile, and he went out to the Römerstadt, the newly built housing project, the first of its kind and size in Germany, designed by Ernst May using the cheap new methods of prefabrication. Maillol, he says, was practically speechless with astonishment and delight, having always thought modern architecture somewhat cold. Kessler says:

I explained to him once more that this architecture is simply an expression of the same new vitality which impels youngsters to practice sport and nudity. It lends warmth in the same way as medieval buildings gained such from the Catholic interpretation of life. This German architecture cannot be understood unless it is visualized as part of an entirely new Weltanschauung.


The affair with Lucile did not last. She ceased modeling for Maillol and was married by 1932, when she brought her husband to visit him, and wept to see the studio again.

Two years later, the architect J.C. Dondel told Maillol that he knew a girl who bore a strange resemblance to his work. Maillol wrote to Dina Vierny saying: “Madame, it appears that you resemble both a Maillol and a Renoir. I will content myself with a Renoir.” And he invited her to visit Marly-le-Roi. Vierny was born in 1919, a daughter of a pianist and composer from a Russian Jewish family, a friend of Saint-Exupéry. She was fifteen when she went along to visit Maillol, and found him receiving Gide, Van Dongen, and Vuillard. Approaching the first man she saw with a beard, she introduced herself to Van Dongen by mistake. Maillol, as we are informed by the catalog of the Fondation Dina Vierny, wanted to work immediately. In the person of Dina, he had “found the figure which he had within himself, the figure which rests upon the beauty of the body….” This corrects an earlier, perhaps prim account, according to which she modeled only her head for two years before he asked her to pose nude.37 According to this earlier account, Dina returned to Marbly in 1935, spending her holidays in a small commercial hotel not far from the Maillol family house. In 1938, when Maillol closed his atelier in Marly, Dina followed him to Banyuls and took lodgings next door. What Clotilde thought of this arrangement can be imagined.

Maillol, in addition to his house in Banyuls itself, had inherited a property up in the mountains known as La Métairie, and it was here that he began to live and work. Clotilde later told Arno Breker, at a time when Dina was under arrest for anti-Nazi activities (but who is to say whether Breker is reliable?):

If you knew how much I suffered when Dina Vierny lived with us! God be praised! she’s gone! and I can sleep more peacefully!… They were always outside, at the Métairie. Even if he was painting a landscape, she had to be with him! Hey! What do you say to that? Me, I couldn’t go so far, because of my legs. That’s why what happened at La Métairie remains a riddle for me. Don’t do anything to bring her back. I’ve heard fragments of conversation between Maillol and his visitors, where they were saying that you were going to bring back Dina….38

What was happening at La Métairie is the stuff of legend. The critic Waldemar George tells us that Dina went there every day, returning at sunset; that she and Maillol together read the classics of Greece and Rome, Les Chants de Maldoror, Les Fleurs du Mal, Mallarmé, Valéry; that Maillol read Freud, Heidegger, and Sartre (this sounds improbable), but that he could not agree with what he read, and that some of the books bored him (this sounds more probable).

George also tells us that Dina joined the Comité de Secours Américainpour Intellectuels Antifascistes, and, since they were living close to the Spanish border, was able to help Franz Werfel, and Golo and Heinrich Mann, to escape, that she also traveled into Occupied France and brought friends to Marseille, and that she was with André Breton when he left by this means. Lorquin, who is normally somewhat stingy with documentation, tells us that Maillol had shown Dina the route from Puig del Mas (where La Métairie was) across to Port Bou, and that the first escape network set up was known as the Maillol network. And he provides a letter from the Varian Fry Papers at Columbia University to support this claim.39

The defensiveness of Lorquin’s tone is apparently due to the fact that Maillol has been accused, as he had been in the previous war, of collaborating with the Germans. The basis for this accusation was that in 1942, when Breker, the official sculptor of the Third Reich, opened an exhibition in Paris at the Orangerie, Maillol made the mistake of accepting an invitation, “mainly because it gave him an opportunity to cross over into the occupied zone and visit his studio at Marly-le-Roi to check on the state of the sculptures he had been obliged to abandon there. He was totally unaware of the significance of this act, which was bitterly held against him.”

One can accept this. Maillol was over eighty at the time, and had known Breker for years, since 1927. One might even accept that Maillol was a “pacifist and a humanist” without any affinity for Hitler’s regime (although Kessler says that during the Spanish Civil War he was an avid supporter of the “rebels”—that is, the fascists). But unless he tells the whole story—and explains about the arrest and release of Dina Vierny, his mother—Lorquin cannot expect his defense of Maillol to do anything more than raise doubts in the reader’s mind. According to Breker, Vierny was already under arrest when Maillol went to Paris. Maybe this is not true, but one wonders.

Waldemar George says that the Vichy government was informed about Vierny’s activities with the refugees and that she was confined to her house by order. Managing to escape, she left for Paris. In 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo and held for six months in the Fresne prison, “only escaping deportation by a miracle.” Afterward, she couldn’t get back to Banyuls, so remained in Paris till the liberation.

Everything up to the words “Fresne prison” in this account appears to be true. In 1990, a letter of Maillol’s, dated October 5, 1943, appeared at auction in Berlin. It is addressed to the writer Hans Franck:

…I’ve had my founder in Paris [Ruler] told to tell M. Brewed to try to release my model Dina Vierny who had been arrested by the German authorities…but he wrote yesterday to tell me he has not informed Breker…. Since you know where he is could you be kind enough to tell him how desolated I am not to be able to finish my statue (L’Harmonie)—he’s the only one who can obtain that from the German authorities…. I feel sure that my friend Brewed will do all that he can….40

This proves that Breker was approached by Maillol to secure Dina’s release, but makes it seem likely that she had only been arrested in 1943, and that the trip to the Paris exhibition in 1942 was not made under the shadow of Dina’s imprisonment. Whether we are to believe Breker that Maillol, at a formal dinner at the Lapérouse restaurant, made a speech to the effect that Breker was the Michelangelo of Germany—this is another matter.

(Breker, a master of kitsch prose as well as sculpture, describes his reaction: “The word had fallen. I must have had a feeling identical to the one experienced by a young girl when she undoes her dress for the first time, arousing the enthusiasm of her cavalier: ‘Divine goodness! What a marvellous breast!’ and who does not know how to respond other than by blushing and lowering her eyelid.”)

At all events, Maillol had given Breker a propaganda coup by visiting his show, and he was right to think that the Nazi sculptor owed him one. And Breker, as it were, was a broker. He likes boasting of the influence he had and was able to use—he says, for instance, that a word of his in the ear of General Müller saved Picasso from arrest. He points out that the charges against Vierny were very serious: helping refugees, working with Communists, cross-border currency deals, and so forth. Also he points out, with some relish, that she was a Russian of the Jewish faith, and that if he didn’t act quickly she might be put on “a convoy leaving for the East.”

What Maillol had on his side was his fame and the fact that Speer was an enthusiast for his work, Breker says, adding, untruthfully, that Speer had offered him a commission for a large fountain. A sketch for this had met with Hitler’s approval and preparations were under way. Hitler, too, was a Maillol fan, says Breker.

Whatever words Breker had with the Gestapo turned out to be effective, and Breker received assurances that the release would be arranged. He chose this time to travel down to Banyuls and get Maillol to sit for him, a favor which the old man could hardly have refused. When the bust was finished, Breker, who had been informed of the time of Vierny’s release, still (by his own account) didn’t let Maillol know. Instead he acceded to Maillol’s repeated quests to be taken back to Paris, and he arranged that they would lunch with Rudier, Maillol’s and Breker’s founder, and his wife at a small restaurant in the Avenue Matignon, near the house, says Breker, where Heine died.

An officer called Lag was due to pick up Vierny from Fresne prison and bring her straight to the restaurant—presumably (this is all I can guess) as a way of demonstrating his power and usefulness to Rudier and Maillol while at the same time showing that he had responded to their request. Aperitifs were drunk, and the meal ordered. Finally Vierny appeared and simply took her seat at the table between Maillol and Breker and ordered her meal. Breker says that afterward he insisted on taking her home, and that outside she broke down completely. He told her that she must go straight back to Banyuls and not continue her Communist activities, for she would certainly be watched by the Gestapo: one more misdemeanor and she would be killed. Breker also put the story about that if Vierny did anything else wrong his, Breker’s, life would be in danger.

Vierny did go back to Banyuls, but only a week later. She stayed there a while, as we know from Henri Frère, a friend and neighbor who recorded extensive conversations with Maillol, but finally she left and no doubt was indeed in Paris at the time of the liberation on August 25, 1944. (There is even a story that Maillol told Vierny she must thank Breker properly for saving her life, and that she went up north in order to do just that, and tracked him down.) On September 15, 1944, Maillol was on his way to see Dufy, when he was injured in a car accident. He was hurt on the chin, and in the next days he began to lose the will to live. Frère describes his slow death, a classic case of turning one’s face to the wall.41

According to Waldemar George, when the radio and the papers announced Maillol’s death, on September 27, Vierny wanted to go to the Tuileries to place some flowers at Maillol’s monument to Cézanne. But the Tuileries was held as a military post, and she was unable to get in.

Maillol had done her proud: he had saved her life, and he had made her joint executor, with Lucien, of his estate. When Clotilde Maillol died in 1952, Lucien apparently handed over complete control to Dina. She had her gallery already, and she was no doubt better at business than Lucien. In the next few years, she bought up everything by Maillol that she could afford, and she founded the museums I have already described. Maillol had done her proud, and you could say that she has returned the compliment handsomely. It is amazing to go to the Carrousel garden, and to think how all that effort has spanned a century: what Rodin did for Maillol, what Kessler and Maillol did for each other, what Maillol did for Vierny, what Malraux did for Vierny, and what Vierny did for Maillol, to round the story off.

This Issue

May 9, 1996