Aristide Maillol

 

Chapter One




By Ryozo Himino
e-mail to the author

This site carries a translation of a book titled gMaillolh published in Japanese by Graph-sha in Tokyo in November 2001.

© 2001 Ryozo Himino for the original Japanese edition

© 2002 Ryozo Himino for the translation in English

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Banyuls-sur-Mer

 

Aristide Bonaventure Jean Maillol was born on 8 December 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer, a village at the southwest corner of France. This village, gBanyuls on the seah, is located where the southeast end of the Pyrenees meets the Mediterranean Sea.  Its current population is five thousand.  A small village faces a small bay with a fishing port, and behind it extends a slope covered by vineyards and silver-gray olive trees, which are blown by winds from the Mediterranean Sea and burnt by the strong southern sun.  The French-Spanish border is just nearby, and Maillol grew up speaking Catalan as his mother tongue.

 

The word gmaillolh means a young grapevine in Catalan.  The origin of the Maillol family must have been related to wine production.  Even now, Maillolfs relatives produce Maillol brand sweet wines. 

 

His father, Raphäel, was engaged in cultivation of a vineyard and trade in textiles. According to Maillol, he was gas good-looking as Jupiter sculpted by Pheidias.h (Cladel 1937, p.9)  Raphäel was a great reader but not with special interest in fine arts.  Maillolfs mother, Catherine, was a clerk at a shop and came to know Raphäel when he came to the shop to buy some clothes.  After marriage, they built a house near the port, but the husband was often away from home doing trade with Algeria, where his sister had a textile shop.

 

Maillol was born as the fourth of their five children.  At the birth of Maillol, the father was forty-one and the mother thirty.  

 

Catherine gave birth to Maillol not at their own house but at her father-in-lawfs.  As the husband was often away from home and they already had three children, Catherine had difficulty in raising the fourth herself.  Maillol stayed at the house where he was born and was raised by his aunt Lucie and his grandfather Raphäel.

 

The house still remains in Banyuls.   One would find it on a narrow street in the old town after walking uphill a few minutes from the seashore.  It occupies a block and is one of the largest and the most magnificent houses in the neighborhood.  In the neighborhood where walls were all white, only the house had rose-colored wall, and it was called the gMaison roseh.  It looks three stories high seen from below the slope, and two stories high seen from above.  The top story commanded the view of the Mediterranean Sea.  The color of the wall has faded a bit, but one would see big fig trees in the garden just as at the time of Maillol.

 

When young, grandfather Raphäel made his living by coastal navigation and by tobacco smuggling between France and Spain.  He was at the age of seventy-six and already blind at the time of Maillolfs birth.  Infant Maillol led his grandfather every morning to a sunny bench on the seashore in winter and to the shades of plane trees in summer, and took him back every evening.

 

gI took my grandfather to this shore so that he could meet other sailors like him.  They sat there, having a kind of a reunion, you know, and killed their time.  I myself was so small that I sat leaning on my grandfatherfs legs.  I used to listen to the talks.  I still remember my grandfatherfs knees, which were so big.h (Frère 1956, p.46-47)

 

gHe was a big man and I was so small but we often made long journeys together.  On the way, he told me stories caressing my head.h (Vierny 1994, p.111)

 

 Maillol learned of smugglersf routes from his grandfather.  In Maillolfs last years, the routes, known as the gMaillol routeh, served to let refugees from Nazi get out of the country. 

 

Aunt Lucie was forty-four when Maillol was born and was single.  She ran a small shop, whose proceeds helped her raise Maillol.  Maillol painted a large portrait of her when he was young, which is now exhibited in the Maillol Museum in Paris.  She sits up straight, and looks simple and neat.  Her large hands show her virtue of industry.  It is clear that the young painter respected her profoundly.  The portrait had remained to be the only ornament to the dining room of Maillolfs house in Banyuls till his last days.  Maillol named his only child Lucien, a name which must have been taken after Lucie.  For Maillol, Lucie played the role of a mother and had been one of the most important figures in his life.  Both the grandfather and the aunt, however, disciplined Maillol rigorously and were very strict to him.  Both of them were pious Catholics, and Maillol was also a religious child.  He was baptized and took his first Holy Communion at the church in his village.

 

Maillol was enrolled in a local primary school.  He had a good teacher.  gHe taught me all what I know.h (Cladel 1937, p.11)  In the recollection of a classmate, however, gMaillol was always dreaming or drawing.h (Puig 1937, p.9)  He could not become intimate with other schoolboys and did not have many friends.  According to a classmate, gAfter school, he seldom joined us to play.h (ibid)

 

After school, he caught butterflies and other insects in vineyards and gathered shells and drifts on the seashore.  He seems to have been a child who liked playing by himself.  His whole life seems to have centered on silent plays by himself.  He was a child who crouches on seashore playing alone with shells, while his classmates played around in a group.

 

gI have never been so happy in my life as I was when fishing from rocks by the sea in my childhood.  When I could be all alone by the sea with a fishing linec, you know, I felt as if I were above everything.  My aunt strictly forbade me to go fishing, but I had a line concealed in a wall near the house, and stealing her eyes, I took it out and ran to the sea.  (c) I didnft know why, but when I could be alone on rocks, passing time there, with the sea, I felt immense joy.  I felt the same joy when catching birds in the mountain.h (Frère 1956, p.321-322)   

 

At the age of twelve, Maillol was enrolled in a boarding school located in Perpignan, the capital of the prefecture, which is thirty kilometers away from Banyuls. 

 

gI learned nothing from the ignorant priests who taught at the school.h (Cladel 1937, p.11) 

 

gOn these school days, I have no memories other than those miserable and boring.  The only exception is that I found how to raise a sparrow in my desk.h (op. cit., p.12)

 

His interest in fine arts started in this period.  According to a relative, gThere were no shops in those days for artistfs materials in Banyuls.  Maillol took the scissors from his motherfs sewing basket, cut out the center piece of the tablecloth and painted his first work on the back.  It was of fishing boats.  He was 13.  There was quite a scene when it came time to set the table.h (Sciff 1997, p.105)  It is also said that a Polish teacher Alchimovitch taught him painting and that his first oil painting was a landscape of the Banyuls Bay.  He also painted a picture of a horse running over a volcano to decorate the shop of his aunt in Algeria.

 

Later, when he was asked what kind of circumstance was decisive for his development and what kind of a shock revealed his talent, Maillol told the following story:

 

gI never felt a shock.  The taste for art existed inside me.  If I am to say that there was a shock, then I should say that the shock was provoked by a green caiman, by a duck made of porcelain china, and by a dove made of glazed tinplatec  One of my classmates subscribed books, or rather pamphlets, each of which cost ten centimes.  The cover of one issue featured a picture of a green caiman.  The strange image and its color dazzled me.  I ran to the bookshop hoping to find the green caimansc  Well, it was for paintings.  I was conquered by the charm of the form for the first time when I found, after school, a duck made of china displayed by a peddler merchant.  The duck seemed to me a marvelous thing.  It evoked such a strong desire in me that I stole it and fled to my house to hide it in a drawer.  I was delighted by my loot and tortured by the fear of the policec  As to the dove made of glazed tinplate, it was on the cap of one of my classmates.  I was enchanted by the dove, so enchanted that, in spite of my extreme timidity, I dared to visit his house and ask his mother to sell it to me.  She exploded into laughter and said to her neighbors, gLook at this boy who fell in love with the tinplate dove of my son!h (Cladel 1937, p. 12-13)

 

Aunt Lucie visited the boarding school once a week but Maillol quitted it at the age of seventeen and recommenced to play by himself in Banyuls.

 

This was a period of calamity for the Maillol family.  Raphäel, Maillolfs father, passed away after being in bed for four or five years.  The vineyard was destroyed by insects and the family lost income from it.  As the second elder brother Adolphe was also dead young, the family had only two men, Maillol and his oldest brother Raphäel, but Maillol did not work to contribute to the household.  He spent time, for example, producing a magazine titled gThe Figh, later renamed gA Diary of a Boredh, that had only one copy issued and had only one reader.

 

Maillol told me that when he was really young, before going to Paris, he edited a small magazine gThe Figh, which he illustrated in the style of Cham, a cartoonist at that time. He produced about twenty issues but none of them remain now.  He found one issue in his cellar in Banyuls a few years ago but burned it. (Kessler 1961, p.649)

 

After spending two years in Banyuls, Maillol returned to Perpignan to take lessons on painting by Alchimovitch, an ex-teacher at the boarding school and then a curator at the city museum.  Maillol soon found he had nothing to learn from him and tried to study the works in the museum by himself, but Alchimovitch, not wanting to lose the tuition, did not let Maillol enter the museum.  Maillol brought the case to the city office but the office did nothing in response.  Maillol and aunt Lucie talked to Alchimovitch together but he did not change his attitude.  The effort to study art in his home region was frustrated.

 

Maillol happened to meet a student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris who was traveling in the region and had an opportunity to try sculpture with him.  Also, when drawing at a cafe in Banyuls, Maillol met another student in art, who gave an advice that if Maillol wanted to be a painter he should not stay in Banyuls but should go to Paris, start with the Decorative Art School, and then study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

 

Maillol thus made his mind to go to Paris to be a painter.  Though his family opposed, he did not give in.  Aunt Lucie agreed to contribute twenty francs a month and, at the age of twenty, Maillol was set to Paris.

 

On the day of the departure from Banyuls, his aunt, mother, and sisters, lining on the steps of the Maison rose front gate, bade farewell to Maillol who were descending the slope.  The recollection of the scene brought Maillol into tears even in his old days.   

 

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Links:

 

l       Link to the photographs of the Banyuls bay and a street in the old town at the Banyuls tourist office Web site

l       Link to the photograph of a Banyuls vineyard at the Banyuls tourist office Web site

l       Link to the Maillol Museum in Paris