Camille Claudel


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Auguste Rodin (1840—1917) French sculptor



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French sculptor and painter, born in Fère-en-Tardenois. Her family moved to Paris in 1881. She studied sculpture under Paul Dubois and worked in Rodin's studio from 1885. Claudel became Rodin's lover and model as well as his assistant. She was to claim that Rodin used many of her ideas, especially in relation to The Burghers of Calais (1884–6). Rodin's defenders have argued that her contribution was no more than would have been normal in the semi-industrial conditions in which sculpture was produced at the time. Claudel's proponents have pointed to a perceived decline in Rodin's creativity after she left his studio in 1893. In that year she exhibited La Valse (Musée Rodin, Paris) at the Salon Nationale in Paris. The sense of the figures almost defying the laws of gravity, suggesting, as Claudine Mitchell puts it, ‘release from the material world’, is somewhat marred by the drapery added in order to satisfy the requirements of a state commission. No such censorship was applied to Rodin's The Kiss, implying that the problem was that such an erotic piece was produced by a female sculptor.

Claudel's best-known sculpture is L'Age Mur (1894–9, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). An imploring woman, reminiscent of mourners in funerary sculpture, is helpless as an old woman pulls away a man from her grasp. This has generally been read as autobiographical, signifying Claudel's failure to separate Rodin from his long-term companion, Rose Beuret. Yet to see the piece as a more generalized and detached treatment of the subject of mortality would be in accord with the intellectual, Symbolist milieu in which Claudel worked. Her smaller-scale sculptures made inventive use of materials, especially coloured marble. La Vague (1900, Musée Rodin, Paris) combines bronze and green onyx.

From 1897 onwards her mental state gave rise to increasing alarm. In 1912 her brother, the writer Paul Claudel, had her forcibly removed to a mental hospital. She spent the rest of her life in confinement and died in obscurity. Her modern reputation began with an exhibition at the Musée Rodin in 1951. Paul Claudel contributed a vitriolic attack on her lover to the catalogue and to this day the extent, if any, to which Rodin was to blame for her tragic end remains a matter for passionate debate. What is certain is that Rodin continued to use his influence to support her professionally long after their split. The catalogue of the 1982 exhibition ‘De Carpeaux à Matisse’ (Association des Conservateurs de la Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais) expressed the hope that the reputation of the female ‘artiste maudit’ would give way to a proper appreciation of her work. In the years since, fascination with her biography, manifested above all in a popular film (1988) starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu, has tended to elevate the victim above the artist. The Musée Rodin holds a substantial collection of her work and organized further major exhibitions in 1984, 1991, and 2008.

Further Reading

C. Mitchell, ‘Intellectuality and Sexuality: Camille Claudel, the Fin de Siècle Sculptress’ Art History, vol. 11, no. 4 (December 1989)J. A. Schmoll, Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel (1994)


Subjects: Art.

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