ARISTIDE MAILLOL (Banyuls-sur Mer 1861 - 1944 Perpignan)
Les Lutteuses (Two Views)
Cast and reworked patinated plaster
7 1/4 × 5 3/8 inches (18.4 × 13.5 cm)
Monogrammed on top of base
with William Edward O’Reilly;
with Lori Bookstein;
Mrs. Georgia Ashforth, Greenwich, Connecticut;
Private collection, New York
Emmanuelle Héran, “Vollard, Publisher of Maillol’s Bronzes: A Controversial Relationship,” in Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde (exh. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 13 September 2006-7 January 2007; Art Institute of Chicago, 17 February-13 May 2007; Paris, Musée d’Orsay, 18 June-16 September 2007), ed. by Rebecca A. Rabinow, New Haven and London, 2006, pp. 172-181.
One of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century, Aristide Maillol began his artistic career as a painter and designer of tapestries. In the late 1890s he turned his attention to sculpture, making small-scale works in wood and terracotta focusing on the nude female body. The Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who gave Maillol his first one-man show in 1902, purchased many of these works—including Les Lutteuses—and had them cast in bronze. They were highly prized by collectors as well as Maillol’s artist friends, such as Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Auguste Renoir, who sometimes included them in their paintings. Les Lutteuses appears on a ledge near the center of Vuillard’s 1931 The Visit, also known as Evening in the Drawing Room, Rue de Naples (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), an interior scene of the Parisian home of collectors Jos and Lucy Hessel (fig. 1).
Although the subject of men wrestling has been common in art since ancient times, the representation of women wrestlers is rare. Wrestling matches between pairs of men and women were a form of court entertainment in seventeenth century Italy. Ferdinando Tacca (1619-1686), sculptor to Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, produced bronze groups of two women wrestling—both nude and scantily clad (figs. 2, 3)—which were sometimes paired with bronzes of two nude men wrestling.
Another seventeenth-century example, after a small ivory group attributed to the German sculptor Leonhard Kern (1588-1662), is known in several casts, such as those in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (fig. 4); the Wallace Collection, London; and the Nationalmuseum Stockholm.
The French painter Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845) expressed an interest in fighting women in works such as his watercolor Les femmes se battent (fig. 5) of 1823, in which two fully-dressed, working class women are shown in intense hand-to-hand combat. Boilly’s women are quite different in conception from the classicizing nudes of Maillol, Tacca, and Kern, however. Their contemporary garb and comical grimaces lend the work an air of caricature and are reminiscent of the bawdy genre scenes popular in seventeenth century Dutch painting.
Our example of Les Lutteuses, although cast, is reworked by hand in the women’s hands, feet, arms, and upper bodies. Although titled Les Lutteuses by Maillol, the two women display an elegant balleticism in their locked embrace, while the figures, themselves, echo the forms of archaic Greek sculpture in their simplicity of form. The patina of our sculpture is highly nuanced, accentuating the forms of each body.
Although Vollard had the idea of casting this group for Maillol, few examples are known today, including those in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, both terracotta, and a bronze example, formerly in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, which sold at Sotheby’s London, in 2011.