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Artists Camille Claudel
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Camille Claudel

French Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Symbolism, Modern Sculpture, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: November 8, 1864 - Fère-en-Tardenois, France

Died: October 19, 1943 - Montdevergues, France

Camille Claudel Timeline

Quotes

"I am like Donkey Skin or Cinderella condemned to keep the ashes of the heart, never hoping to see the Fairy Godmother or the Price Charming who must change my clothes make of skin and ash into dresses the colour of time. How can you sleep soundly while so many women shout: help, I am drowning!"
Camille Claudel
"I am in no mood to be deceived any longer by the crafty devil and false character whose greatest pleasure is to take advantage of everyone."
Camille Claudel
"I would prefer to have a more appealing job. If I could still change careers, I would prefer it. This unfortunate art is made for long beards and ugly faces rather than for a relatively well-endowed woman."
Camille Claudel
"I am scared; I don't know what is going to happen to me. What was the point of working so hard and of being talented, to be rewarded like this? Never a penny, tormented all my life. It is horrible; one cannot imagine it."
Camille Claudel

"There is always something missing that torments me."

Camille Claudel Signature

Synopsis

Talented from youth, inspired by nature, and captivated by love, Camille Claudel unlocked the emotive power of sculpture after centuries of its subtleties having been obliterated by excessive polishing and focus on technique. Drawn intuitively to the innocence of children, the experience of old age, and the complexities of love and madness, Claudel exhibited great skill in the portrayal of raw and real emotions. Whilst sculpture until this point had typically dealt in hard and impenetrable subject matter akin to its materials, Claudel managed to peer beyond the surface and add transformative elusiveness to formulaic solidity.

Sadly, following the end of her long-standing affair with fellow sculptor, Auguste Rodin, Claudel's own underlying delicacy unravelled and she experienced a psychological breakdown. As unsupported personally as she had been professionally, her own family placed her in an asylum. This action was the equivalent of caging a bird, and as Claudel could not fly in captivity, she instead became the living embodiment of her pain, a symbol of the destruction of love, existing only in her own despair. Although the woman herself died in relative obscurity, interest in her art grew organically and there is now a National Museum in France dedicated to Claudel's life's work.

Key Ideas

Every work by Claudel is infused with an intensity of expression, psychological investment, and sense of truth that is arguably lacking in the work of her male contemporaries. The likes of Alfred Boucher and Auguste Rodin had tendencies to overlay emotional reality and lived experience with projections of fantasy and a finishing sheen of beauty, and as such they neglected to explore 'meaning', or to move away from outdated neo-classical and imperial styles. It was Claudel who was keen to experiment - influenced by Art Nouveau and Japanese prints - her sculpture became 'expressionist'.
Claudel's sculptures reveal an interest in relationships, and in particular the dynamism created by the gathering of small groups (including couples). Whilst the portrait busts that she made typically exude a sense of calm, her groupings emit abundant energy. Like others at this time (most notably Sigmund Freud) Claudel attempted to understand moods and behaviours that were triggered by human interaction. Like Edvard Munch, she worked repeatedly on the same subjects illustrating a tendency towards obsession.
Claudel experienced ongoing torment in both her personal and professional life - due to being at best sidelined and at worst completely betrayed - and this writhing agitation was often made visible in her work. Professionally, her career was a constant struggle, from being one of the first women to formally study when such was still frowned upon, to later finding it difficult to gain financial support to help cast vulnerable plaster models into lasting bronze. Personally, she felt betrayed by Rodin who aided her emotional damage to such a degree that once institutionalized, she would no longer make art in fear that he would steal her ideas.

Most Important Art

Camille Claudel Famous Art

Sakuntula (or Vertumnus and Pomona) (1886-1905)

Although also smooth-lined and romantic, this sculpture differs radically to those of her male contemporaries. Similar in composition to Rodin's Eternal Idol (1889), whilst in his sculpture we are confronted by highly polished sex and desire, here Claudel depicts love as a power of the mind, as well as an attraction between bodies. The lovers are connected as equals as they gracefully unite their heads. The title and subject of the piece originally comes from the legendary Indian tale by the poet Kalidasa, in which Sakuntula is reunited with her husband following a long magic spell. First modelled in 1886, Claudel repeatedly fought for a state commission for a marble version but was constantly refused. It was only in 1905, when the Countess of Maigret was still Claudel's financial sponsor that a version was finally carved in marble. At this point the sculpture was renamed Vertumnus and Pomona after the Roman God of metamorphosis who initially disguised himself as an old woman to gain the trust of the goddess of fruit. Indeed the sculpture is also sometimes known as The Abandon, and with these three different titles, moves from Hindu to Greek mythology, to personal experience.

Originally read as a surrender to love, the renaming in 1905 to introduce an aspect of disguise points towards Claudel's distrust of Rodin after their separation and complicates the meaning. According to the art historian, Angelo Caranfa, the piece expresses Claudel's worry that she can never detach herself entirely from Rodin. A letter written to Gustave Geffroy in 1905 indicates that the work had a particular personal and artistic significance for Claudel, "(...) I am still coughing and sneezing as I polish with rage the group destroying my tranqulity: with tear-filled eyes and convulsive groans I finish the hair of Vertumnus and Pomona. Let's hope that despite different accidents, they shall be finished in a logical way, suiting two perfect lovers." The sculpture is Claudel's hopeful recounting of tender, real, and vulnerable love. It is not an idealised symbol of love as Rodin's The Kiss has come to represent, but instead reveals love, even if in time lost, that was actually experienced by two people, not an untouchable vision, but a momentary actual joy felt in the course of everyday life.
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Camille Claudel Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Camille Claudel was born in 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, France. Her father made a living from mortgage dealings and bank transactions, and her mother came from a long line of wealthy Catholic farmers. The family moved from place to place, one of which was Villeneuve-sur-Fère, which made a deep impression on Claudel and the family would continue to spend summers there even after moving on. In 1927, Claudel wrote of Villeneuve to her younger brother, the poet Paul Claudel, "What joy if I could find myself at Villeneuve again! This beautiful Villeneuve unlike anything on earth!". It seems that the children enjoyed the landscape and atmosphere of this countryside home in particular, and may have contributed to Claudel's particular love of nature, and literally for the earth. When the family moved to live for three years at Nogent-sur-Seine - at which time Claudel was 12 - she was already working with clay. Her early work attracted the attention of the already successful sculptor Alfred Boucher, who advised her father to encourage his daughter's artistic career. In response to such advice, in 1882, along with her mother, Paul and her younger sister, Louise, Camille Claudel moved to the Montparnasse neighbourhood of Paris while her father continued to work elsewhere and supported the family from afar.

Early Training

At the time, very few spaces were open for women to study art. The official École des Beaux-Arts remained exclusively for men until 1897. Thus, Claudel studied sculpture at the more forward thinking, Académie Colarossi, where promising female artists were not only admitted, but where they were also (highly controversially) permitted to draw from the male nude. With her confidence bolstered, in 1882 Claudel rented her own studio space, which she shared with three British sculptors Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett.

Following her earlier encounter with Alfred Boucher, once in Paris, he became Claudel's mentor and they established a strong and productive student-teacher relationship. Claudel sculpted his bust, and he depicted her in the very tender piece, Camille Claudel lisant (1882). Boucher's sculpture powerfully reveals that Claudel was not a typical woman for her era. Not only did she ambitiously carve and model her own highly original works of art, she also and perhaps more significantly, made those around her 'see' differently. While Boucher would usually present the classic female body, languid, on offer, and seductively emerging from stone, his depiction of Claudel stands out as a radical exception. Claudel sits clothed, with a book in hand, and with her eyes closed, not in erotic reverie this time but instead committed to deep thought and self-development.

<i>Camille Claudel lisant</i> (also known as <i>Jeune fille lisant</i>) (1879-1882) is a depiction of Claudel by Boucher
Camille Claudel lisant (also known as Jeune fille lisant) (1879-1882) is a depiction of Claudel by Boucher

Having won the Grand Prix du Salon, unfortunately for Claudel, Boucher soon left Paris for Italy. Upon his departure, he asked Auguste Rodin to become the tutor for his group of women pupils. At the time, Rodin was forty-three years old with a strong reputation as a sculptor. Claudel quickly became not only one of his pupils, but also his muse and lover, starting to work in his workshop in 1883. Whilst her father continued to support her talent and life choices, the rest of her family condemned her henceforth and forced her to leave the family home. In 1884, Claudel became one of Rodin's official studio assistants and worked, somewhat ironically, on both The Kiss (1882) and on The Gates of Hell (1880-1890) with her lover (the two also happen to be some of Rodin's greatest masterpieces). Rodin was always open about his belief in Claudel's talent, originality, and creative genius. He talked of her as his best assistant but refused to end his relationship with Rose Beuret to be with her exclusively in romance. Ensnared by Rodin's 'double life', Claudel carried a rage and jealousy surrounding the situation that would later grow into paranoia.

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Camille Claudel Biography Continues

Mature Period

Alongside becoming Rodin's muse and the source for many of his portraits and allegories, her own work was getting stronger and she became a great influence on Rodin stylistically. Her 1886 sculpture, Shakuntala, won a Salon Prize. Her daring use of the nude combined with strong psychological message had started to attract attention from art critics.

Camille Claudel and Jessie Liscomb in their studio at 117 rue Notre-Damedes-Champs in 1887. Claudel is working on a version of <i>Shakuntala</i>
Camille Claudel and Jessie Liscomb in their studio at 117 rue Notre-Damedes-Champs in 1887. Claudel is working on a version of Shakuntala

Meanwhile however, her relationship with Rodin was falling apart as he refused to separate from Beuret and marry her. By 1892, after an almost 10 year affair, the couple officially parted and the separation inalterably shifted the tone of Claudel's art, always inseparable from her life. Works that followed, for example Clotho (1893) and Maturity (1895), display sorrow emotionally, but also in practical terms, they are no longer supported by the team and finances that she previously had access to through Rodin's studio. Rodin did attempt to continue to help to further Claudel's career beyond their time as lovers, but Claudel felt such strong resentment and mistrust towards Rodin by this time that she refused any help. She labelled Rodin as a career saboteur and referred to him as "The Ferret" in letters, who alongside the "bande à Rodin" had caused her great harm. Despite growing unhappiness, Claudel experienced a period of productive creativity. Inspired by everyday reality, Art Nouveau decorative curves, and memorable images from Ukiyo-e Japanese prints she made some of her most original works. Her experiments with different materials and combination of marble and bronze were unprecedented and attracted the financial support of the Comtesse de Maigret in 1897.

Late Period

Claudel had been working and living alone in her studio on the île St-Louis since 1899 and despite support from the Comtesse de Maigret, continued to have financial difficulties. It is recorded that Rodin paid her rent in 1904 and continued to search for commissions for her. From 1905 onwards, Claudel's mental health appeared to be deteriorating, as she sporadically experienced bouts of rage and destroyed her own work. Following an argument with the Comtesse she also lost her rich patron at this time. Despite increasing paranoia and isolation, Claudel did have other supporters; the art critic Gustave Geoffroy was a strong advocate of her work, as was the writer and critic Octave Mirbeau who wrote about her talent in the press. It seems though, that this was not enough as Claudel was convinced that the entire world was set against her and seemed to produce less original work but instead further copies of pieces that she had already made.

Her behaviour became increasingly unsettling to others as she secluded herself in her studio, installed traps behind her doors and only spoke to visitors through her shutters. She destroyed most of the work in her studio in 1912, and then tragically in 1913, her ever supportive father died. Claudel was not informed of her father's death and instead, now without opposition, her mother, her brother, and her sister instantly took the opportunity to have Claudel diagnosed with paranoia and committed to an asylum.

Camille Claudel (1929). Photograph by Jessie Lipscomb
Camille Claudel (1929). Photograph by Jessie Lipscomb

Following this sad extraction, the remains of Claudel's workshop were destroyed. Doctors tried to reason with Claudel's family that she was by no means insane, but the family wanted Claudel out of their lives and effectively imprisoned. In 1917, Claudel wrote to her former doctor, trying to negotiate her release, "I am reproached (what a terrible crime!) to have lived alone, spending my life with cats, to have felt persecuted! It is based on accusations that I have been imprisoned for five years and a half like a criminal, deprived of freedom, deprived of food, fire and the most basic essentials." Out of utter despair and embroiled in a nightmare, Claudel abandoned sculpture completely. Loyal admirers of her work openly criticized her family, while Rodin attempted to intercede in his former lover's favour without success. Claudel spent thirty years at the asylum of Montdevergues during which time she received only a handful of visits. When her old friend, Jessie Lipscomb visited her in 1929 she photographed Claudel who appears as the interesting shell of a once magnificent creature.

She died alone in 1943 at the age of 78, and was buried in the mass grave of the institution with her body never claimed by her family.


Legacy

Following a long period of relative obscurity, with her work having been significantly overshadowed by her relationship with Rodin, it has now re-emerged and become rightfully recognised for its ingenuity in the portrayal of emotion and human nature. More so than that of any of her male contemporaries, the work of Claudel looks forward to the expressionist career of Edvard Munch and the Post-Impressionist journey of Vincent van Gogh. Diverging from the typical illusionist and historical depictions of the time, Claudel's approach prefigures the early 20th century focus on autobiography, exploration of relationships, and self-representation, both in art and in the introduction of psychoanalysis. Although mildly influenced technically by Alfred Boucher and Auguste Rodin, Claudel was principally an innovator driven by her own individual experience.

Claudel's struggles with mental illness, her stigmatisation as an unusual solitary character, and decision to live on the borders of society raise questions surrounding the artistic temperament and what it in fact means to be an artist. Furthermore, her struggles cannot be dissociated from her sex as woman, for the eccentric and/or antisocial behaviour of male artists had already long since been tolerated. As a light at the end of a mostly long dark tunnel, the inauguration of the Musée Camille Claudel on the 26th of March 2017, the international day for women's rights, has acknowledged her influence to stem even beyond art history, to become a symbol for women's struggle to raise themselves up from the falling debris of a long standing patriarchal system.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Camille Claudel
Interactive chart with Camille Claudel's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

MichelangeloMichelangelo
DonatelloDonatello
Benvenuto Cellini

Friends

Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin
Alfred BoucherAlfred Boucher
Claude Debussy

Movements

Greek sculptureGreek sculpture
Art NouveauArt Nouveau
RomanticismRomanticism
Japanese art
Camille Claudel
Camille Claudel
Years Worked: 1882 - 1913

Artists

Antoine Bourdelle
Gaston Schnegg
François Pompon
Ernest Nivet

Friends

Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin
Jessie Lipscomb
Paul Claudel
Octave MirbeauOctave Mirbeau

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
Feminist MovementFeminist Movement

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie
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Useful Resources on Camille Claudel

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Camille Claudel: A Sculpture of Interior Solitude (1991) Recomended resource

By Angelo Caranfa
Detailed account of the artist's life and work

Camille: The Life of Camille Claudel, Rodin's Muse and Mistress (1988) Recomended resource

By Reine-Marie Paris

Mind of Steel and Clay: Camille Claudel (2014) Recomended resource

By Enrique Laso
Details about the artist's time in an asylum, from the view of her nurse

Camille Claudel: A Life (2002)

By Odile Ayral-CLause
Biography of the artist

More Interesting Books about Camille Claudel
Musée Camille Claudel website Recomended resource

Website for the museum based on the artist's life and work

Camille Claudel Recomended resource

Artists spotlight page on National Museum of Women in the Arts site

Rodin and Camille Claudel

Rodin Museum spotlight on the artist's relationship

Museum Devoted to Camille Claudel, Long Overshadowed by Rodin, Opens in France Recomended resource

By Brigit Katz
Smithsonian.Com - Smithsonian Magazine
March 30, 2017

Museum rescues sculptor Camille Claudel from decades of obscurity Recomended resource

By Maev Kennedy
The Guardian
March 24, 2017

How Rodin's tragic lover shaped the history of sculpture Recomended resource

By Arifa Akbar
Independent
August 10, 2012

Camille Claudel - Love, Despair, and Auguste Rodin

By Zuzanna Stanska
Daily ArtDaily
November 18, 2016

More Interesting Articles about Camille Claudel
Camille Claudel Trailer 1989 Recomended resource

Trailer for the movie made about the artist's life

Camille Claudel - Movie

The entire film on YouTube

Camille Claudel

Video slideshow about the artist

other

IMDB: Camille Claudel (1988)

IMDB page for the film made about the artist

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