Gauguin encouraged his growing interest in decorative art, an interest that led Maillol to take up tapestry design. In 1893 Maillol opened a tapestry workshop in Banyuls, producing works whose high technical and esthetic quality gained him recognition for renewing this art form in France. He began making small terra cotta sculptures in 1895, and within a few years his concentration on sculpture led to the abandonment of his work in tapestry.
The subject of nearly all of Maillol's mature work is the naked female body, treated with a classical emphasis on stable forms. The figurative style of his large bronzes is perceived as an important precursor to the greater simplifications of Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, and his serene classicism set a standard for European (and American) figure sculpture until the end of World War II.
He died in Banyuls at the age of eighty-three, in an automobile accident. While driving home during a thunderstorm, the car in which he was a passenger skidded off the road and rolled over. A large collection of Maillol's work is maintained at the Musée Maillol in Paris, which was established by Dina Vierny, Maillol's companion during the last 10 years of his life. His home a few kilometers outside Banyuls, also the site of his final resting place, has been turned into a delightful little museum where a number of his works and sketches are displayed.
Three of his bronzes grace the grand staircase of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City: Summer (1910-11), Venus Without Arms (1920), and Kneeling Woman: Monument to Debussy (1950-55). The third is the artist's only reference to music, created for a monument at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Claude Debussy's birthplace.