Outside the Gund Gallery, students sit on the base of a sculpture: A reclining nude woman places her left hand to the side of her face, her hair pushed backward by the wind. It reappeared on campus this fall without a name plate or an explanation, leaving many students wondering, “What is this sculpture?”
On an extended loan from Ann Gund and Graham Gund ’63 H’81, its name is La Montagne, French for “the mountain.” It is a bronze exhibition copy of a sculpture by French artist Aristide Maillol, a contemporary of Paul Gauguin in the early 20th century. While the copy sits in front of the Gund Gallery, the original is in the Gallery’s storage. Like the majority of Maillol’s other work, La Montagne presents the female body in a style influenced by Classical Greek and Roman art.
Maillol based the piece on his final famous muse, Russian Dina Vierny, who later became a famous art dealer of Maillol’s work. In 1934, at the age of 73, Maillol asked the then fifteen-year-old Vierny to pose for his works. She modeled for the majority of Maillol’s sculpture during the last 10 years of his life. La Montagne is one of many works of Vierny that thematically deal with nature and the elements. Others from this loose series include Air from 1938 and The River from 1943.
At the time of its creation in 1937, European militaries needed metal as Europe approached World War II, so Maillol constructed the original from lead. This choice of material is why the original La Montagne currently sits in the Gallery’s storage: Squirrels constantly chewed the soft lead.
Gund Gallery Director Natalie Marsh remembers attempting to cover the sculpture in fox urine to attempt to curb damage from these squirrels, and using what finally worked: a chili powder and honey paste. But Marsh wasn’t happy with this solution either. “That prevented ongoing destruction, but then you’re smearing this yucky gooey stuff all over a sculpture,” she said.
The Gallery’s final decision was to temporarily move it inside the building, where Kiki Smith’s Her, the sculpture of a woman and a deer, is currently located. Finally, Ann and Graham Gund suggested that a copy be made so that it could be in its original location.
Nate Winer ’19 is one of the many students who often sits by La Montagne. He even posed next to it for his Facebook profile picture. Winer likes the contrast between a classically styled sculpture and thinks it fits in well next to a modern building. “The first time I saw it I was very interested by it because I like that style of art more,” he said. “I’m not a huge fan of abstract sculpture, so seeing the human form drew me in.”