Camille Claudel was born December 8, 1864. At 12, she already realized her life’s ambition to become an artist; making terra cotta figures of David and Goliath and Napolean. Alfred Boucher saw her work and realizing her talent, entreated her father to move to Paris where she could receive a formal education in sculpting. Her father relocated his family when she was 14.
Camille attended Academie Colarossi, one of the few private universities that accepted female students. There she took courses on drawing and anatomy among others. Most of her early work (Mythological and religious figures) was not preserved.
She sculpted a bust titled “La Vieille Hélène” of an old woman, extremely innovative for the time.
In 1882 Camille, at 17, rented a studio with other artists (including Jessie Lipscomb). In 1883 during Alfred Boucher’s absence, Auguste Rodin started supervising the group.
A letter from the fall of 1883, from Rodin to his “ferocious friend”
“This morning I ran around (for hours) to all our spots without finding you. Death would be sweeter! And how long is my agony. Why didn’t you wait for me in the atelier, where are you going? (…) In a single instant I feel your terrible force. Have pity, mean girl. I can’t go on. I can’t go another day without seeing you. Atrocious madness, it’s the end, I won’t be able to work anymore. Malevolent goddess, and yet I love you furiously… . (…) Let me see you every day, which would be a good idea and might make me better, for only you can save me with your generosity. Don’t let this slow and hideous sickness overtake my intelligence, the ardened and pure love I have for you – in short, have pity, my beloved, and you will be rewarded.”
Rodin, 43, had been in a relationship with Rose Beuret for 19 years and had a son that was Camille’s age when they met and began their affair.
In 1884, a year after her first exhibiton she became a trainee under Rodin. Though her roles would also include his assistant, muse, model and confidante. Some of the works she inspired: ‘Fugitive Love’ (1884), ‘L’Éternel Printemps’ (1884), ‘Aurore’ (1885), ‘Avarice and Lust’ (1885), ‘Faun and Nymph’ (1886), ‘The Kiss’ (1886), ‘Paolo & Francesca’ (1887), ‘Death of Adonis’ (1888) and ‘Eternal Idol’ (1889) and ‘Danaid’ (1885). Some say “Celle qui fut la Belle Heaulmière” was inspired by Camille’s “La vieille Hélène”.
In 1885 Camille became an official collaborator of Rodin’s and with her friend Jessie worked in his studio. During her time with Rodin she helped him complete such pieces as Burghers of Calais in 1895 and Gates of Hell, 1900.
“Camille, my beloved, in spite of everything,” Rodin wrote in 1886. “I am at the end of my tether. I can no longer go a day without seeing you.”
Rodin and Claudel had a troubled relationship. She kept asking him to leave Rose for her, and Rodin always refused. In 1886, Jessie and Rodin exchanged letters to each other discussing the partnership and weighting his options between Rose and their son and Camille. In October Camille dictated a contract to him in which he would only take her as a pupil, only support her work, relinquish all former contacts, models and other women and take a 6 month journey with her that would end in their marriage. Though it is signed by Rodin, the contract was obviously never fulfilled.
Read the story here: http://www.chandrapubl.com/shakuntala.pdf
In 1890 Camille stayed at the Chateau de L’Islette at Azay-Le Rideau with Rodin and concentrated on his work and their relationship. “I sleep completely naked to make me believe you are here, but when I wake up it is not the same thing.” she wrote to him.
Some say Camille began seeing Claude Debussy, but was unable to let go of her love of Rodin. Debussy said of Camille: “In the works sculpted by Camille Claudel, there is a fixed kind of beauty that her gestures already sketched… This kind of beauty realized by a woman… has a plastic eloquence of an extraordinary power blended with a deep accent of intimacy as an echo of secret or familiar emotions sprung from a strong interior where they sing at mid voice”
Rodin, frightened by the young woman’s desire for commitment, moved to the country with his partner and child and ended communication with Claudel. “You promised to take care of me and not to turn your back on me. How is it possible that you never wrote to me even once and you never came back to see me? Do you think that it is fun for me to spend months, even years, without any news, without any hope!” she wrote him.
She quickly dropped contact with him as well, and worked hard to establish her own artistic career and independence.
Rodin, still very loyal to her continued to boast about her work to his contacts. Though this got her attention, it cast his long shadow over her work.
“I showed her where she would find gold, but the gold she finds is her very own” he said.
“Monsieur Rodin is not unaware that many nasty people have said he made my sculpture. If Monsieur Rodin really wishes me well, he can do it without having people believe that owe the success of the sculptures on which I work to his advice and his inspiration” she responded.
In 1895 Camille was one of the few artists to support Rodin’s new style. During this time, he revisited her portraits and redid many of them in this new style. Sshe was also trying a new style, working with shapes and themes found in her beloved nature.
It wasn’t until 1897 that the 32 year old sculptor could finally live off her own work. She had a patron until 1905 that she produced for. Until a quarrel between Countess De Maigret ended their professional relationship.
In 1904 she met Eugene Blot an art dealer who became her agent. Without him, she surely would’ve starved. He had many of her pieces copied and sold as well as organized exhibitions for her. “Take this helping hand I am holding out to you,” he wrote to her. “I have never ceased to be your friend.”
But after years of onslaught from the public and heavy critique of her work, as well as her own family’s lack of support, it soon became too much for Camille. “If there was still time to change corporate I’d prefer that. I would have done better to buy beautiful dresses and beautiful hats […] than to indulge in my passion.” she said.
Though she was still exhibiting, and sculpting, she lost a lot of exhibitions and commissions. “It is in fact agreed that I am the plague, the cholera of the benevolent and generous men who are interested in art and that, when I show myself with my plasters, even the Emperor of the Sahara would flee.” she joked bitterly.
Her friend, Henri Asselin soon began to worry about her. “From 1906, every summer, Camille began to systematically destroy, with a hammer, all her works of the year. Her two workshops provided then a spectactle of lamentable ruins and devastation” It’s true, during this time she grew increasingly reclusive, suspicious and paranoid.
“I took all my wax studies and threw them in the fire… that’s the way it is when something unpleasant happens to me. I take my hammer and I squash a figure.” she said.
In 1913 her father passed away, she did not attend the funeral, possibly because she wasnt told by the family.
She wrote to her cousin Charles: “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.”
8 days after the passing of her father, her brother Paul had her institutionalized at Maison de Sante in Ville-Evrard.
Rodin sent money to help pay her hospital expenses, and by the suggestion of Mathias Morhardt had a room at Hotel Biron dedicated to Camille.
In 1915 she demanded her family release her or take her to a hospital in Paris but her mother refused. 2 years later, Rodin finally married Rose Beuret, though they both died the same year. In 1920 a doctor at the hospital suggests that Camille return to the family, but again, she is refused by her mother. She wrote to her mother in 1927: “You are very hard to deny me asylum in Villeneuve. I would not be a scandal as you think. I’d be too happy to resume ordinary life to do anything. I dare not move anymore so I suffered.”
She finally passed October 19, 1943 after 30 years in asylums.
I felt a lump in my throat as I wrote this blog that swelled more and more with every word. My stomach felt like someone had poured lead into it. I wanted to cry as I read and recounted all the information I was gathering. I don’t want to compare and contrast Rodin and Claudel’s work (as many do) and I definitely don’t want to pass judgement on either of them and their life choices.
I hope you do the same,