This sculpture was originally part of a project for a Calvary depicting Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary, and Christ on the Cross (see photo); Monfreid may or may not have completed the design. He intended to execute the piece in ceramic, as suggested by the Mater Dolorosa's shadowy browns, blues, and purples which resemble ceramic glazes. The intensity of the unrealistic colors, as well as the emotional nature of the religious subject, characterizes this rare example of Nabis sculpture. Led by Paul Gauguin, Paul Serusier, Pierre Bonnard, and Ă‰douard Vuillard during the 1890s, the Nabis-Hebrew for "prophet"-proclaimed spiritual and sacred values. They reacted against the Impressionists, who they thought were mundane and superficial.
The inscription at the upper right includes the artist's signature as well as a dedication to Doctor Gouzer, a mutual friend of Monfreid and Gauguin and to whom Monfreid gave Mater Dolorosa in 1897. During his intense twelve-year correspondence with Monfreid, Gauguin praised the artist for giving the work to Gouzer, noting "Your Calvary is a true revelation: it is the masterwork of your life."
Plaster reconstruction of Monfreid's Calvary by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) at the Gallerie Charpentier in Paris, 1938. The figure at the right demonstrates how Mater Dolorosa fit into the scheme of the sculpture.