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All About Rodin’s Muse, Camille Claudel
She has been the subject of films and books, and her work is worth millions
Art Girls Jungle 03 Jan 2020

Camille Claudel was a French sculptor best known for her bronze and marble depictions of figures that are rough-texured yet beautiful and sensuous in style, similar to those of her lover Auguste Rodin. She was an important artist in her own right too, but her work was often overshadowed by her relationship with Rodin. Born on December 8, 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois, France, as a child Claudel was fascinated with stone and soil, and as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi under Alfred Boucher, one of the few places open to female students at the time. It was through Boucher that Claudel first met Rodin and began their doomed love affair while becoming his muse.

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Image of Camille Claudel, the French sculptor, and one of her works, L’Abandon via The Guardian

Claudel became an apprentice in Rodin’s workshop in the late 1880s, helping him with his sculptures and posing for him as his model. They eventually became lovers even though Rodin was 24 years older than her and their relationship was turbulent. They often argued and he refused to end his 20-year relationship with Rose Beuret. Rodin made several sculptures depicting Claudel, including Portrait of Camille with a Bonnet.

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Image of The Waltz via wga.hu website

Claudel was attempting to become an artist at a time when this wasn’t considered much of a possibility for women. Not only was she trying to break into a male dominated industry, but she was also trying to depict lust and sexuality in her art; subjects which were highly taboo for women in nineteenth century society. As a result, she relied heavily on Rodin to have her work shown and bought, and had to collaborate with him in order to get commissions. At that time, to have access to a bronze foundry, funding and approval from an official institute was necessary.

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Image of Claudel and her work via Britannica website

In perhaps what is her most famous sculpture ‘The Waltz’ , Claudel elegantly depicts a dancing couple’s embrace, capturing the flowing movement of both figures. She was initially denied access to bronze for the sculpture as it depicted a pair of naked bodies too close together, but in the end she managed to make the stunning work.

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Image of Claudel and Rodin via Musée Rodin
“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?” she once asked. “Never a penny, tormented all my life. It is horrible, one cannot imagine it.”

After her affair with Rodin ended, Claudel was overtaken with grief and began frequently destroying and throwing away her sculptures. By 1912 most of the pieces in her studio had been ruined and only a small percentage of her works exist today. Sadly,  she spent the last three decades of her life in an asylum, where she was sent in 1913 against her will. Despite claims from doctors that it wasn’t necessary for her to be there, her brother and mother said she was showing signs of schizophrenia and insisted she stay there. Fellow artists voiced their outrage at the time over locking away an artistic genius. Claudel’s mental health, reputation and creativity suffered greatly as a result. She died on October 19, 1943 in Montdevergues, France.

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Image of the musée Camille Claudel via the blog of Jean-Pierre Kosinski. – Overblog

Claudel’s reputation today lives on not because of her once notorious association with Rodin, but because of her work. The novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau described her as “A revolt against nature: a woman genius.”

Today, her works are in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others including a museum dedicated solely her. The Camille Claudel Museum was opened in 2017, 75 years after her death, in her hometown of Nogent-sur-Seine. The museum houses half of Claudel’s existing works. Plans to turn the Claudel family home at Nogent-sur-Seine into a museum were announced in 2003, and the museum negotiated with the Claudel family to buy her works. These include 70 pieces, including a bust of Rodin.

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Image via Filmstarts Camille Claudel – Film 1987 – FILMSTARTS.de

Her boldness in creating stunning works while struggling with the darker corners of mental illness has recently gained her much deserved attention for her incredible talent and her works of art are now worth a fortune. During an auction in 2017, 20 sculptures of various materials (bronze, clay, plaster and terra-cotta) sold for for a combined total of €3.6 million, three times the estimated total. The Abandonment was bought for an impressive €1.2 million, The Little Chatelaine sold for €492,000 and Study II for Sakuntala broke records for a terra cotta piece by Claudel, acquired by the Musée d’Orsay for an incredible €467,800.

Her tragic life story has inspired books, films, and plays that explore her life as both an artist and Muse.

 

Text by Peigi Mackillop

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