Sculpture Garden

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Aristide Maillol. The River. Begun 1938-39; completed 1943 (cast 1948) 107

Lead, 53 3/4" x 7' 6" x 66" (136.5 x 228.6 x 167.7 cm), on lead base designed by the artist 9 3/4 x 67 x 27 3/4" (24.8 x 170.1 x 70.4 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curator, Ann Temkin: This is a very unusual sculpture for Maillol, because most works by him are composed in a very calm, still, balanced sort of way. And you wonder ‘why is this woman in such a twisting turning position’? This sculpture began as a monument in honor of a pacifist, who died around the time this was made. And the idea of the monument was in fact a woman being attacked. The commission for this monument fell through. But Maillol kept going with it, called it The River, and in fact there is precedent for water goddesses, or nymphs cavorting in such a way. But you see her writhing pose in a whole new way when you know that it started out as this very dramatic violent scene.

Today, it’s hard to see the rather violent form of this woman independently from the fact that Maillol, working in France in the years leading up to and during World War II, was somehow reflecting that horrible time in the work he was making.

This is a work made at the very end of Maillol’s life. It wasn’t cast until after his death, and the plaster model for it was made with the help of an assistant, because here was an artist over 80 years old at this point.