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Aristide Maillol - Constant Presence


By Arno Breker,

an eye-witness of the 20th Century


Aristide Maillol stands model for Arno Breker in 1943 at Banyuls-sur-Mer

Photo: C Marco-Press


Aristide Maillol -- we are commemorating his birthday 125 years ago today; in essence, however, such a prominent artistic and human phenomenon as Maillol needs no special day set aside for commemoration. What a long time has passed since then! Yet the artist and the man Maillol are always with me.

In the year 1927 I had my first meeting with Maillol. Of course, a generation separated us --thirty-eight years-- but that did not matter at the moment when I stood facing Maillol in Banyuls-sur-Mer.

I came from Paris, and on my trip to North Africa I broke up the journey to stay in the small coastal village surrounded by gently hills, fig bushes, and laurel trees which Maillol portrayed in many woodcuts.

My veneration for the master and his work as well as Maillol's lively interest in the young generation of artists made the atmosphere relaxed. "Stay with me here in Banyuls," he said to me. He pointed to one of the hills opposite his house and said, "This area is coming available. You can have it, and we will be together in the time to come."

Maillol, however, showed understanding for my desire for the time being to continue my journey in order to gather new impressions and experiences. The flattering offer was nevertheless the beginning of a friendship that lasted almost two decades and of which we were certain on parting that day.

After having returned to Germany, I had the opportunity through fortunate circumstances to give expression to my great veneration for this artist of modern sculpture. I was a member of the artist committee which at the end of 1928 under the direction of Count Harry Kessler set up the first extensive Maillol retrospective in Germany in the Berlin rooms of the art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, who also later represented me at exhibitions. Other important sculptors, such as Rudolf Belling, Ernesto de Fiori, Moissey Kogan, Georg Kolbe, and Renée Sintenis, worked together on the committee. For me personally this was both a great honor and a pleasure.

The friendship between Maillol and me developed more closely in the following years. However, it never came down to a real relationship of master and pupil. My artistic direction developed independently, and so it was an affirmation of my own way of working when Maillol expressed the desire to have his portrait done by me.

In the year 1943 I was able to fulfill his wish. The sun-filled days in Banyuls-sur-Mer during the portrait sittings will always remain vividly etched in my memory. Maillol seemed impressed by my technique of modeling. It was almost inconceivable to him how intensely the portraits I do are capable of transforming the human being into a plastic work of art. When the work was finished, Maillol pronounced judgment, "C'est formidable. I find myself completely captured in this work. I never thought it was possible for such a thing to be done."

In the 1950s, I succeeded in finding a patron to finance the exhibition of Maillol's last, unfinished sculpture Harmony (1944) as a Heinrich Heine memorial in Düsseldorf. This was surely in keeping with Maillol's intent, for he felt things in European dimensions; everything restrictive was alien to him.

How was Maillol? For me he was a man of infallible artistic power. He was reserved, modest, and at the same time full of affirmative joie de vivre right up to a ripe old age. Maillol had a friendly disposition, but on the other hand he showed distrust for those against whom an inner voice warned him. But once the spark of friendship was ignited, an inextinguishable fire glowed.

We have forgotten or almost forgotten that Maillol arrived at sculpture by way of painting. As a sculptor he was autodidactic. I see in Maillol a stroke of luck by nature, placed into a southern French-Mediterranean countryside, which could still give a hint of the paradise-like creative motif.

As far as art history is concerned, Maillol appeared as the counterpoint to Rodin, whose style has undisputedly dominated an entire epoch. Maillol undertook anew the primal power of Nature.

Whoever wants to understand and form an opinion of Maillol must examine his work. The soul of an artist is reflected in that which he has created. Maillol's work, with its major theme of depicting the human subject, is inexhaustible and of compelling reality. The interest in the timeless, magnificent work of my friend Aristide Maillol proves this daily once more.

ARISTIDE MAILLOL, a bronze relief by Arno Breker (1943)

Already in 1942 Arno Breker created the only authentic portrait-bust of his friend Aristide Maillol. An exemplaire of it is in the collection of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Köln, Germany.


* * *

Reminiscences on the occasion of Maillol's 125th birthday on December 8, 1986. An excerpt from the book "Collected Writings" by Arno Breker.

Published by the courtesy Historical Archive of the European-Art-Foundation



Copyright on all works of Arno Breker by MARCO Edition, Haendelstrasse 12, 53115 Bonn, Germany.



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