This is one of eight bronze and lead sculptures corresponding to the stone figure for a monument commissioned from Maillol by the city of Toulouse, France. It honors the crew of the hydroplane Croix du Sud, which left on December 7, 1936 for the twenty-fourth trans-atlantic crossing of a newly established mail service between France and South America, and disappeared after take-off. In Toulouse, the figure is positioned on an undulating drapery, perhaps to suggest wind or waves.
According to the art historian John Rewald, who visited Maillol at his winter studio in Banyuls while work on the sculpture was under way, Maillol based his idea upon a small terracotta he had made around 1900 showing a woman reclining on billowing drapery, as if to represent a Greek goddess at court in the clouds or on the sea. Since classical antiquity, the image of the healthy nude woman has symbolized beauty, truth, and innocence, among other abstract ideals. Maillol’s own interest in the general pose first appears in his paintings of bathers around 1895, derived from works on this theme by Gauguin and Renoir.
Maillol’s first work in the form of a recumbent female nude evolved from his commission to create a monument to Cézanne (finished 1925, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), whose own paintings of bathers were made in dialogue with works by Renoir. According to Rewald’s account, Maillol developed the pose for L’Air by cutting up a version of the figure he had already developed for the Cézanne monument and subtly rearranging the parts. “Nevertheless,” Rewald concluded, “the artist thus created an altogether original work which appears still more beautiful than the initial statue.”
(Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1967.