Aristide Maillol

Torso of the Monument to Blanqui


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On loan

Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France): Aristide Maillol (1861–1944). The Pursuit of Harmony

Aristide Maillol 1861–1944
Original title
Torse du Monument à Blanqui
Object: 1206 × 692 × 527 mm
Purchased 1928

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This sculpture derives from a full-length statue made as a memorial for the French socialist Louis-Auguste Blanqui. Because Blanqui spent much of his life imprisoned for his revolutionary activities, the complete monument showed a woman in chains. Maillol later reworked the figure to make this torso. In this fragmentary form it echoes the classical heritage of Greek art, and by extension the qualities of purity, energy and democratic freedom associated with ancient Athens and with Blanqui’s struggle.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Aristide Maillol 1861-1944

N04415 Torse du Monument à Blanqui (Torso of the Monument to Blanqui) 1905

Not inscribed
Lead, 47 1/2 x 27 1/4 x 20 1/2 (120.5 x 69 x 52)
Purchased from the artist through the Goupil Gallery (Grant-in-Aid 'T' Fund) 1928
Exh: Aristide Maillol, Goupil Gallery, London, October 1928 (1); Open Air Exhibition of Sculpture, Battersea Park, London, May-September 1948 (26, repr.); Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (137, repr.)
Lit: Ambroise Vollard, Recollections of a Picture Dealer (London 1936), p.205; Judith Cladel, Aristide Maillol: sa Vie - son Oeuvre - ses Idées (Paris 1937), pp.75-9; John Rewald, 'Last Visit with Maillol' in Magazine of Art, XXXVIII, 1945, pp.165-6, bronze repr. p.166; Pierre Camo, Maillol, Mon Ami (Lausanne 1950), pp.24, 27-8, 67; Henri Frère, Conversations de Maillol (Geneva 1956), pp.137-8; Rolf Linnenkamp, Aristide Maillol: erster kritischer Katalog zur Grossplastik (Hamburg 1957), No.3, p.7; Waldemar George and Dina Vierny, Aristide Maillol (London 1965), p.221, bronze cast repr. p.142
Repr: Carola Giedion-Welcker, Contemporary Sculpture (New York 1955), p.24; John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery (London 1958), pl.9

Louis-Auguste Blanqui (1805-81) was a leading French revolutionary and socialist, whose Blanquist Party was absorbed in the French Unified Socialist Party in 1904-5. The monument to him is at his birthplace Puget-Théniers, near Grenoble, and consists of a full-length striding nude with the head turned and hands manacled behind the back. When interviewed on 10 July 1905 by the Blanqui Committee presided over by Georges Clémenceau, Maillol's first reaction was to ask who Blanqui was and what manner of life he led. On being told that Blanqui spent many years in prison for his ideas, he is reported to have said: 'I shall make you a nude woman: it will be "Liberty in Chains"'. The monument has often been known under this title or as 'Action in Chains', and these names have also been applied to the torso.

The figure was completed in 1906, but because the statue was intensely disliked by the local authorities, who considered it improper, the monument was not erected until October 1908 and there was no official unveiling. Maillol told John Rewald in 1941 that 'the "Action in Chains" for the monument to Blanqui, that enormous torso - well, I did that in ten days. In a fortnight all the essential part was finished, and the statue was entirely ready in three months'. The model was his wife, a robust peasant woman from Banyuls, who also inspired 'Thought', 'Night', 'Pomona' and a number of his drawings. However, she was only called upon to pose seven or eight times.

According to Dina Vierny (letter of 25 July 1975) the 'Torso of the Monument to Blanqui' has been cast in two editions of six, the first in sand cast by Alexis Rudier, the second in lost wax by Valsuani. All the other casts of the first edition known to her are in bronze numbered from 1 to 4, then 5/6 and 6/6; this may be the only one in lead. The second edition is in bronze, numbered from 1 to 6. In a letter to the Tate written from Paris on 18 October 1928, after seeing Maillol that day, Alfred Yockney states that there were then two casts of this work in existence - this one and one which had already been sold - so this must have been either the first or the second.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.465-6, reproduced p.465

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