This painting has the unusual feature of being painted on both sides. It shows us how Maillol worked in different ways at the same time during the 1890s, which was a period of experimentation for him.

Before experiencing great success as a sculptor, Maillol devoted himself to painting while taking an interest in the decorative arts. Trained by the academic masters Alexandre Cabanel and then Jean-Paul Laurens, the young scholarship holder from the town of Banyuls quickly adopted a style that was closer to more innovative artists. Following the example of Courbet, Maillol took an interest in Impressionism and then in the innovations of Seurat and Gauguin, whose exhibition at the Volpini cafe in 1889 led to the formation of the Nabis group.

When it entered the museum’s collections, thanks to art dealer Ambroise Vollard, the back of this work was covered with a canvas lining. In 1974 the lining was removed, revealing two divisionism studies in light colours, while the other side was painted in a synthetist style, testifying to Maillol’s connection with the Nabis.

The main side depicts an imaginary garden in the style of the tapestry cartoons which Maillol drew, seeking to reconnect with the mediaeval style. Here, nature forms a backdrop of sinuous curves with a surreal use of light. The trees frame the staid figures of the two bathers, similar to those in the large mural works by Puvis de Chavannes. On the back, the two women wearing hats and the landscape sketch contain neo-Impressionist aesthetics.

In reusing the reverse side of this canvas, Maillol’s three major themes have been reunited as if by chance in the same work: landscape, open-air portrait and female nudes with the subtle interweaving of human figures and plant life.

I. C.


City of Paris municipal collection's website

City of Paris municipal collection's website

The collections portal can be used to search the collections of Paris’s 14 municipal museums (approximately 336,000 works, including 43,000 belonging to the Petit Palais).

It is also possible to download around 12,000 images of the museum’s works free of charge.

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Discover a selection of databases online presenting works from the Petit Palais or documents concerning the history of the museum.