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Dina Vieny, Maillol And Matisse - Poem by gershon hepner

When posing for Maillol she looked quite obese,
since Aristide thought fat is fine,
but having been drawn by his good friend Matisse,
she left him reduced to a line.

Inspired by an obituary of Dina Vierny, Aristide Maillol’s model, by William Grimes (“Dina Vierny,89, model for Maillol’s sculptures, ” NYT, January 27,2009) :
Ms. Vierny was a 15-year-old lycée student in Paris when she met Maillol, in the mid-1930s. The architect Jean-Claude Dondel, a friend of her father’s, decided that she would make the perfect model for the artist, who was 73 and in the professional doldrums. “Mademoiselle, it is said that you look like a Maillol and a Renoir, ” Maillol wrote to her. “I’d be satisfied with a Renoir.” For the next 10 years, until his death in a car accident in 1944, Ms. Vierny was Maillol’s muse, posing for monumental works of sculpture that belied her modest height of 5 feet 2 inches. By mutual agreement, the relationship was strictly artistic….Her Rubenesque figure and jet-black hair indeed made her, as Dondel had predicted, “a living Maillol, ” memorialized in works like “The Seated Bather, ” “The Mountain, ” “Air, ” “The River, ” and “Harmony, ” his last, unfinished sculpture. Maillol also turned to her as a subject for drawings and painted portraits, like “Dina With a Scarf, ” now in the Maillol Museum.
In 1939, Maillol took refuge at his home in Banyuls-sur-Mer, at the foot of the eastern Pyrenees. There, Ms. Vierny, who had already begun working for a Resistance group in Paris, was approached by the Harvard-educated classicist Varian Fry, whose organization in Marseille helped smuggle refugees from occupied France into Spain. Unbeknownst to Maillol, she began working as a guide, identifiable to her fleeing charges by her red dress. The work was doubly dangerous because she was Jewish. Ms. Vierny soon began dozing off at her posing sessions. The story came out, and Maillol, a native of the region, showed her secret shortcuts, smugglers’ routes and goat paths to use. After several months of working for the Comité Fry, Ms. Vierny was arrested by the French police, who seized her correspondence with her friends in the Surrealist movement but failed to notice stacks of forged passports in her room. A lawyer hired by Maillol won her acquittal at trial, and to keep her out of harm’s way the artist sent her to pose for Matisse in Nice. “I am sending you the subject of my work, ” Maillol told Matisse, “whom you will reduce to a line.” Matisse did several drawings and proposed an ambitious painting that he called a “Matisse Olympia, ” after the famous painting by Manet. When Maillol heard that the project would take at least six months, he hastily recalled her to Banyuls. She also posed for Dufy and for Bonnard, who used her as the model for “Somber Nude.” In 1943, Ms. Vierny was again arrested, this time by the Gestapo, in Paris. She was released after six months in prison when Maillol appealed to Arno Breker, Hitler’s favorite sculptor.


1/27/09


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Poems About Paris

  1. 1. Dina Vieny, Maillol And Matisse , gershon hepner
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