Aristide Maillol and Dina Vierny: the work, the museum, the market

[24 Feb 2015]


After twenty years of activity, the Maillol Museum in Paris is closing for an “indefinite period”. Over the years, the museum, which houses 179 works by Aristide Maillol, has hosted a number of exhibitions that received mixed reviews, but which attracted lots of visitors. The next exhibition on the theme Le Baiser dans l’art de la Renaissance à nos jours (The Kiss in art from the Renaissance to the present day), had been programmed for March 25 – July 26, but has been postponed indefinitely. Since 2009, the exhibitions of this private Parisian museum have been managed by Tecniarte, a company that went into receivership on February 5, 2015. Hence the uncertainty about the future of the museum, which has announced closure for renovation work on its official website.

The Fondation Dina Vierny – Musée Maillol was created in 1995 by Dina Vierny (1919-2009), a key figure in the history of Modern art with a fascinating life story. In 1924, the young Ukrainian, arrived in France aged 6 with her family. She was muse to the artist Aristide MAILLOL for over 10 years, participated in the French Resistance during WWII, became an art dealer with the support of Henri MATISSE as of the late 1940s and spent the rest of her life as an astute and discriminating art collector. The turning point of her life was meeting Aristide Maillol in 1934. Dina Vierny, aged 16, became the key model for the French artist in his later life, when Maillol produced some of his finest works, including La Rivière, which generated his latest auction record in December 2013.

La Rivière is one of three monumental works that Maillol sculpted towards the end of his life, along with L’air and La Montagne. The original project was a lead sculpture created in 1938 as a monument to the philosopher, writer and politician, Henri Barbusse. It represents Dina Vierny’s body caught off-balance in a dramatic setting; carried away by the power of river’s current. There are several versions of this superb work: one at the MoMA in New York, another at the Norton Simon Art Foundation in Pasadena, the first version of which has been exhibited in the Carrousel gardens of the Tuileries in Paris since 1964. The version that sold in Paris in 2013 was an artist’s proof from Dina Vierny’s personal collection. The work was put up for sale with nine other Maillol works by Vierny’s son at Artcurial to settle the artist’s estate. The posthumous cast by George Rudier fetched the artist’s all-time auction record of $7.2 million.

Artcurial’s sale also included a large pastel drawing (83 cm x 128 cm) dated 1938 that was a preparatory work for the famous La Rivière sculpture. The drawing fetched double its low estimate for a final hammer price of $639,000, the artist’s auction record for a work on paper.

Although Aristide Maillol has 24 auction results above the million-dollar line to his name (all hammered in London or New York, with the exception of the Parisian record for La Rivière), his oeuvre is not necessarily unaffordable. His most recent auction result was for a pencil drawing of a sensual reclining nude (Nu allongé) that doubled its estimated price range at the last Modern Art sales in London. The sheet (23 cm x 28.2 cm) fetched £4,000 ($6,000) at Christie’s on 6 February 2015. Drawings of nudes for between $2,000 and $6,000 on average… monogrammed prints for a few hundred dollars … in two dimensions, Aristide Maillol is accessible to most art collectors’ budgets.