Aristide Maillol: The Sculptor, The Man and His Muse

The eminent artist’s last model, Dina Vierny, has dedicated herself to preserving and perpetuating the legacy of his life’s work

The famous sculptor in 1925. Ursel Berger/Alfred Kuhn/Wikimedia Commons

In 1995, Dina Vierny, French sculptor Aristide Maillol's last muse and model, opened the doors of the Maillol Museum in Paris. The event marked the culmination of more than 30 years of single-minded devotion and planning. Housed in a complex of 18th-century buildings on the Rue de Grenelle, the four-story, light-filled museum exhibits a full range of the artist's work as well as works by his contemporaries and friends, including Matisse, Bonnard and Gauguin.

It all started in 1934, when Vierny, then 15, received a letter from the renowned artist, then 73. "Mademoiselle, I am told that you resemble a Maillol or a Renoir," he wrote. "I will be happy if it's a Renoir." Thus began a ten-year collaboration, during which Vierny posed for and inspired such masterpieces as The Mountain, The River and Air. For years, Maillol, who began his career as a painter and tapestry maker, divided his time between his home and studio in Marly-le-Roi, just outside Paris, and Banyuls-sur-Mer, the beloved village of his birth. Vierny joined him in Banyuls in 1940, where she continued to pose for his sculpture, paintings and drawings. She has also opened a small museum in Banyuls and is restoring Maillol's house, which she plans to open to the public.

Maillol's subject of choice was the female nude. The balanced architectural volumes of his monumental figures presage the work of such masters of modern sculpture as Brancusi and Henry Moore. Paris' Tuileries Gardens now boast 20 Maillol sculptures — a gift from Vierny to France — which, along with the Maillol Museum, stand as a living testament to the sculptor's genius.

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