There are still restaurants in the smaller cities of France where local functionaries and dignitaries lunch every day—places where the regulars have their own napkin rings. There are no surprises in these solid, reassuring establishments. The classic, substantial dishes of la cuisine bourgeoise never change, apart from subtle responses to what is in season. The ingredients are excellent, and everything is prepared with skill and care. There may be a little more butter than current urban taste dictates, but the diner is assured of pleasure and satisfaction.

As this fall’s splendid exhibition at Marlborough Gallery made clear, the sculpture of Aristide Maillol (1861–1944) can be described more or less the same way.[1] The analogy is emphasized by the remarkable “tasting menu” with which the exhibition began: a vitrine of twenty small sculptures spanning four...


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