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Aristide Maillol's La Nuit photographed during the Centennial Ball on January 20, 1962, in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of the Albright-Knox Digital Assets Collection and Archives, Buffalo, New York.

Collection Spotlight: Aristide Maillol’s La Nuit, 1902–09

September 21, 2016

This seated female figure by Aristide Maillol was sculpted between 1902 and 1909, and was cast in 1939 in lead. The title, La Nuit, means “night.” The sculpture was photographed during the Centennial Ball on January 20, 1962, in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. 

Impressed by the sober and heavy eighteenth-century lead sculpture in the gardens at Versailles, Maillol had his monumental brooding figure of La Nuit cast in the same metal in 1939. The limestone original from 1902–09 is in the Kunstmuseum at Winterthur. After casting, the artist reworked the piece to create a smooth, barely inflected surface. Like the similar, slightly earlier La MediterranéeLa Nuit recalls the inert massiveness of Egyptian sculpture, in which volumetric figures seem contained within the ideal lines of a geometric shape, in this case a cube. 

In 1909 Maillol had La Nuit taken to the Salon d’Automne at the Grand Palais in Paris and placed directly under the rotunda at the entrance. Just before the opening, Auguste Rodin sent a work to be placed in the same coveted position. Rodin magnanimously allowed Maillol’s figure to remain in place and, on viewing the piece, commented: “One forgets too easily that the human body is an architecture, a living architecture.” 

Aristide Maillol (French, 1861–1944). La Nuit, 1902–09 (cast executed 1939). Lead, 41 1/2 x 24 x 43 1/2 inches (105.4 x 61 x 110.5 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; James G. Forsyth Fund, 1939 (1939:10.1). © Estate of Aristide Maillol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Aristide Maillol (French, 1861–1944). La Nuit, 1902–09 (cast executed 1939). Lead, 41 1/2 x 24 x 43 1/2 inches (105.4 x 61 x 110.5 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; James G. Forsyth Fund, 1939 (1939:10.1). © Estate of Aristide Maillol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Aristide Maillol (French, 1861–1944). La Nuit, 1902–09 (cast executed 1939). Lead, 41 1/2 x 24 x 43 1/2 inches (105.4 x 61 x 110.5 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; James G. Forsyth Fund, 1939 (1939:10.1). © Estate of Aristide Maillol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Detail of Aristide Maillol's La Nuit.

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