Please note the medium is bronze with dark brown patina.
FIVE IMPORTANT SCULPTURES FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
‘I showed her where she would find gold, but the gold she finds truly belongs to her’ – Rodin, quoted in R-M. Paris, Camille: The Life of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s Muse and Mistress, transl. by L. E. Tuck, London, 1988, p. 165).
‘Perhaps the defining characteristic of her soul is her unwavering determination to affirm, first of all, her aim of becoming a sculptor and, later, to sacrifice anything that might prove a hindrance in the complete and necessary realization of this goal’ (Mathias Morhardt, quoted in Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter, exh. cat., Québec, 2005, p. 75).
‘My Camille, be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you’ (August Rodin, quoted in O. Aryal-Claude, Camille Claudel: A Life, New York, 2002, p. 59).
‘Monsieur Rodin is well aware that many spiteful people have imagined that he did my sculpture; why then do all one can to give credence to these lies? If M. Rodin really does wish me well it would be possible for him to do so without on the other hand leading people to believe that it is to his advice and inspiration that I owe the success of the works on which I am labouring so hard’ (Camille Claudel, in a letter to Matthias Morhardt, quoted in Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter, exh. cat., Québec, 2005, p. 175).
‘I don’t know what to admire most [in her work] … Camille Claudel is without contradiction the single female sculptor upon whose brow sparkles the sign of genius’ (Louis Vauxcelles, quoted in L. R. Witherell, ‘Camille Claudel Rediscovered,’ in Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring-Summer 1985, p. 6).
Born into a well-to-do bourgeois family during the 1860s, Camille Claudel’s precocious artistic talents were spotted at the tender age of twelve by the sculptor Alfred Boucher, who graciously took the budding young artist under his wing, offering invaluable advice, training and encouragement for her ambitions. Supplementing her artistic education with books and old engravings, Camille’s all-devouring passion for sculpture led her to commandeer the household staff for portrait sittings, enlist her siblings in the search for suitable clay to work from, and ultimately drive her whole family to move to the stimulating environments of Paris, where she could receive further tutelage in her chosen profession. Paris during the early 1880s was a vibrant artistic hub, filled with bustling studios and ateliers, exhibitions and opportunities for young artists. As Matthias Morhardt, the acclaimed journalist and the Camille’s first biographer, explained: ‘Paris is the realised dream! It’s the freedom to work! It’s the possibility of learning a trade, of having a model, of being the artist you want to be, without worrying about the neighbours who stare over the garden walls’ (Morhardt, quoted in O. Aryal-Claude, Camille Claudel: A Life, New York, 2002, p. 38). As female students were prohibited from studying at the École des Beaux-Arts, Claudel enrolled in the Académie Colarossi, one of the most forward-thinking private art schools of the period. Charging equal fees for both male and female students, the Académie offered both sexes the same opportunities for learning – most of the classes were mixed, with both men and women working alongside one another, directly from the nude model.
Upon Boucher’s advice, Camille rented a private studio on the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Montparnasse to continue her work.
Located just one street away from the Académie Colarossi and right next door to the Claudels’ new apartment, this became the centre of Camille’s creative activity for years. Soon, she was joined in the space by the English sculptors Amy Singer, Emily Fawcett and Jessie Lipscomb, an arrangement which allowed her not only to share the expense of renting the space and hiring models, but also provided her with companionship amongst like-minded, artistically ambitious women. Boucher assumed the role of unofficial patron of Camille’s atelier, usually stopping by the studio once or twice a week to check on his protégée’s progress and to offer advice and direction to each of the women on their current projects. However, Boucher’s win of the Grand Prix du Salon and subsequent departure for Florence in 1882 brought these weekly visits to an end. Eager to ensure Camille’s talent was nurtured in his absence, he asked his close friend, Auguste Rodin, to take his place, a request that would mark the beginning of a passionate, tumultuous and ultimately tragic affair that would define Camille’s life.
Camille embodied many different roles during the course of her relationship with Rodin, becoming pupil, collaborator, muse, model and lover at various points in the fifteen years they spent together. Although the exact circumstances of the beginning of their romantic relationship remain a mystery, the tender portraits that Rodin created of Claudel during the early years of their romance attest to the consuming fascination he held for this headstrong, enigmatic young woman. While photographs of a young Camille illustrate her natural beauty, Rodin was clearly attracted just as much by her creative and artistic intellect, her determination to succeed as a sculptor, and her deep understanding of his own creative genius. In the small portion of their correspondence that survives, Rodin frequently expresses his profound love and adoration for Camille, stating in one letter: ‘My Camille, be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you’ (Rodin, quoted in ibid, p. 59).
As the decade progressed, Camille came to play an increasingly important role in his artistic and personal life. The sheer scale and number of monumental commissions that Rodin received during the 1880s required him to find talented, trustworthy assistants who could contribute to the realisation of such projects. Around 1884, he asked both Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb to join his previously all-male atelier to work on a number of projects, including La Porte de L’Enfer and Les Bourgeois de Calais. Specialising in the modelling of feet and hands, Claudel was tasked with sculpting the appendages of many of the figures in these monumental groups, lending them a heightened sense of expression and movement. She earned a reputation as a quiet, diligent presence in the atelier, who was usually so completely absorbed in her sculpting that she remained oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the studio around her. Camille quickly became Rodin’s most trusted assistant, to the point that he would consult her on every decision, every adjustment in design and addition to his projects. She in turn perfected the techniques of her craft during her time at the atelier, learning to work in bronze, plaster, marble and onyx, to such a point that she became one of the select few assistants allowed to work on Rodin’s marble pieces. The similarities in compositions such as La jeune fille à la gerbe, executed by Claudel around 1887 and Galatée by Rodin, the plaster of which was reproduced as early as 1888, testify to the important creative fusion and artistic exchanges that were occurring between the pair during this period.
However, their affair was a tumultuous one, repeatedly struck by difficulties, frustrations and bouts of violent jealousy, which threatened to bring about an end to their entanglement at any moment. For Camille, the primary issue lay in Rodin’s reluctance to abandon his long-term companion, Rose Beuret, who had stayed by his side since their youth, endured his days as a struggling, penniless artist, and had borne him a son. In addition to this, Camille became increasingly frustrated by the manner in which her reputation remained inextricably intertwined with that of the older artist. Critics repeatedly referred to her as Rodin’s student in their appraisal of her sculptures and she was often forced to delay her own work to assist on the projects flooding into Rodin’s studio. Camille expected complete fidelity and devotion from Rodin, both romantically and professionally, and his obligations to Rose, to his patrons, and specifically to the other assistants working in his atelier drove a wedge between them. During one particularly difficult period, in which relations with Camille were unbearably tense, Rodin reported that he was driven mad by her absence: ‘My poor head is really sick and I can no longer get up in the morning. É I am at the end of my tether. I can no longer go a day without seeing you. Otherwise, horrible madness’ (Rodin, quoted in Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter, exh. cat., Québec, 2005, pp. 81-84).
Rodin’s desperation to appease his paramour and affirm his devotion to her led him to sign an audacious contract in October 1886. Promising to place himself solely at Camille’s service, he stated that he would refuse to take on any students other than her, that he would devote himself completely to furthering her artistic career, and that he would disengage himself from any personal or professional connections to other women. Perhaps most importantly, Rodin promised Camille that after a six-month sojourn in Italy during which they would live together, she would become his wife. However, the trip to Italy never materialised, the deadline for their engagement passed, and by 1892 it had become clear that Rodin would never leave Rose. Camille’s disappointment and bitterness towards her lover became increasingly violent, and Rodin began to withdraw from her, feeing Paris to live with Rose, who represented comfort and security to the aging artist.
The break-up coincided with the creation of one of Camille’s most renowned sculpture groups, L’Age mûr, 1899, the composition of which has often been interpreted as a vague allusion to the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of her relationship with Rodin.
Though deeply wounded by the end of their affair, Camille’s determination to step out of Rodin’s shadow led the decade following
their break-up to become one of the most intensely productive periods of her entire career. However, after years of such close association between the two artists, it proved impossible for Camille to separate her reputation from that of her former master. Her work was continuously compared to his, her figures complemented for their grace but often accused of echoing Rodin’s compositions too closely. Frustrated by such comments, Camille became jealous and bitter. Working in total isolation in a studio on the boulevard d’Italie, she became consumed by her need to differentiate herself from Rodin’s example. She turned towards smaller works, based on observations from everyday life treated in a narrative vein, rather than subjects rooted in allegory or history, and adopted a visual language evocative of
Slowly but surely, her paranoia regarding Rodin’s interference in her career began to consume Camille entirely – she nicknamed him ‘The Ferret,’ and imagined his influence behind every failure she endured. Camille’s precarious mental state continued to decline throughout the opening decade of the twentieth century, as did her material and financial circumstances, and by 1905 she was living in almost complete seclusion. An essential supporter during this period of her life was Eugène Blot, a forward-thinking art dealer and founder who became the artist’s sole agent around 1904. Blot cast and sold Camille’s work, promoted her to buyers, and staged several exhibitions devoted to her sculpture during the opening years of the century. In spite of this support, Camille became lost in a spiral of self-destruction, obsessed and paranoid, struck by intense bouts of anger and despair that led her to destroy her own sculptures.