Model Behaviour

By Rosenthal, Tom | New Statesman (1996), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

Model Behaviour


Rosenthal, Tom, New Statesman (1996)


TOM ROSENTHAL looks at the relationship between muse and master

The Marlborough Gallery in London is showing two perfectly complementary exhibitions together. Both are prime examples of the interplay between artist and model. The show of Picasso etchings and aquatints is, in fact, simply called "Pablo Picasso: artist and model". The sculptures of Aristide Maillol are displayed under the title "Maillol and Dina", and chart the compelling relationship in bronze between the 73-year-old sculptor and the 15-year old girl, Dina Vierny, who became his most important muse from their meeting in 1934 until his death ten years later.

Vierny was the daughter of a Ukrainian Menshevik and pianist who, in 1926, fled to Paris, where she grew up in a typical emigre artistic circle. An architect recommended her to Maillol, who wrote to her: "Mademoiselle. they tell me you resemble a Maillol and a Renoir. I shall be satisfied if it's a Renoir." She spent her school holidays with Maillol and his dour, disapproving wife at the sculptor's birthplace of Banyuls-sur-Mer, at the foot of the Pyrenees. With the advent of war and the fall of France, she moved permanently to Banyuls, where she was joined by her father in 1940. When he remonstrated with Maillol about his daughter's tomboyish tree-climbing and the sculptor's inadequate supervision, he responded: "You may have made her, but I created her." (It is rather difficult, today, to accommodate Maillol's attitudes to the women who gave him his art, but it was still the 19th century when he said of his wife: "I lifted her chemise and found marble.")

Vierny, when not posing for Maillol, guided refugees from Vichy France through the mountains and across the border into Spain. After the war, she opened her eponymous art gallery in Rue Jacob in Paris, an event photographed by Brassai. Eventually, in 1995, she cemented her relationship with her mentor by persuading the then president, Francois Mitter rand, to open the Fondation Dina Vierny-Musee Maillol. Rarely can a modelling career have ended so auspiciously.

Sadly, the show at the Marlborough Gallery has none of Maillol's paintings of Vierny. Missing is a fine nude that gives a far better representation of her catlike face than the bronzes, and two or three affectionate versions of her in the red dress she wore to identify herself to the refugees who arrived at Banyuls railway station in order to follow her through the mountains. …

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