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Camille Claudel

[kloh-del]

Camille Claudel (December 8, 1864October 19, 1943) was a French sculptor and graphic artist. She was the older sister of the French poet and diplomat, Paul Claudel.

Early years

Camille Claudel was born in Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, in northern France, the second child of a family of farmers and gentry. Her father, Louis Prosper, dealt in mortgages and bank transactions. Her mother, the former Louise Athanaïse Cécile Cerveaux, came from a Champagne family of Catholic farmers and priests. The family moved to Villeneuve-sur-Fère while Camille was still a baby. Her younger brother Paul Claudel was born there in 1868. Subsequently they moved to Bar-le-Duc (1870), Nogent-sur-Seine (1876), and Wassy-sur-Blaise (1879), although they continued to spend summers in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, and the stark landscape of that region made a deep impression on the children. Camille moved with her mother, brother and younger sister to the Montparnasse area of Paris in 1881, her father having to remain behind, working to support them.

Creative period

Fascinated with stone and soil as a child, as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi with sculptor Alfred Boucher. (At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts barred women from enrolling to study.) In 1882, Claudel rented a workshop with other young women, mostly English, including Jessie Lipscomb. In 1883, she met Auguste Rodin, who taught sculpture to Claudel and her friends.

Around 1884, she started working in Rodin's workshop. Claudel became his source of inspiration, his model, his confidante and lover. She never lived with Rodin, who was reluctant to end his 20-year relationship with Rose Beuret. Although pregnant, Claudel never had children with Rodin; she lost the child in an accident, which sent her into a deep depression. Knowledge of the affair agitated her family, especially her mother, who never completely agreed with Claudel's involvement in the arts. As a consequence, she left the family house. In 1892, perhaps after an unwanted abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin, although they saw one another regularly until 1898.

Beginning in 1903, she exhibited her works at the Salon des Artistes français or at the Salon d'Automne. It would be a mistake to assume that Claudel's reputation has survived simply because of her notorious association with Rodin. She was in fact a brilliant sculptor in her own right, and the famous art critic Octave Mirbeau wrote she was "A revolt against nature: a woman genius". Her early work is similar to Rodin's in spirit, but shows an imagination and lyricism quite her own, particularly in the famous Bronze Waltz (1893). The Age of Maturity (1900) whilst interpreted by her brother as a powerful allegory of her break with Rodin, with one figure The Implorer that was produced as an edition of its own, has also been interpreted in a less purely autobiographical mode as an even more powerful representation of change and purpose in the human condition. The different scales, the different modes of plasticity, and gender-representation, of the three figures which make up this important group, enable a more universal thematic and metaphoric stylistics related to the ages of existence, childhood, maturity, and the perspective of the transcendent (v. Angela Ryan, "Camille Claudel: the Artist as Heroinic Rhetorician." Irish Women's Studies Review vol 8: Making a Difference: Women and the Creative Arts. (December 2002): 13-28). Her onyx and bronze small-scale Wave (1897) was a conscious break in style with her Rodin period, with a decorative quality quite different from the "heroic" feeling of her earlier work. In the early years of the 20th Century, Claudel had patrons, dealers, and commercial success - she had no need to bask in the reflected light of another.

Illness

From 1905 on, Claudel acted mentally deranged. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time and acted paranoid. She accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her. After the wedding of her brother (who supported her until then) in 1906 and his return to China after a stay in France, she lived secluded in her workshop.

Confinement

Her father, who approved of her career choice, tried to help her and supported her financially. When he died on March 2, 1913, Claudel was not informed of his death. On March 10, 1913 at the initiative of her brother, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne. The form read that she had been "voluntarily" committed, although her admission was signed by a doctor and her brother. Some historians speculate that her brother, also an artist, felt overshadowed by her strength in art and wanted her out of the way. There are records to show that while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. Doctors tried to convince the family that she need not be in the institution, but still they kept her there.

In 1914, to be safe from advancing German troops, the patients at Ville-Évrard were at first relocated to Enghien. On 7 September 1914 Camille was transferred with a number of other women, to the Montdevergues Asylum, at Montfavet, six kilometres from Avignon. Her certificate of admittance to Montdevergues was signed on 22 September 1914; it reported that she suffered "from a systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination".

For a while, the press accused her family of committing a sculptor of genius. Her mother forbade her to receive mail from anyone other than her brother. The hospital staff regularly proposed to her family that Claudel be released, but her mother adamantly refused each time. On June 1, 1920, physician Dr. Brunet sent a letter advising her mother to try to reintegrate her daughter into the family environment. Nothing came of this.

Paul Claudel visited her every few years, though he referred to her in the past tense. In 1929 Jessie Lipscomb visited her.

Camille Claudel died on October 19, 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at Montfavet (known then as the Asile de Montdevergues, now the modern psychiatric hospital Centre Hospitalier de Montfavet), and without a visit from her mother or sister. (Her mother died on June 20, 1929.) Some biographies list her death as 1920. Her body was interred in the cemetery of Monfavet.

Legacy

Though she destroyed much of her art work, about 90 statues, sketches and drawings survive.

In 1951, her brother organized an exhibition at the Musée Rodin, which continues to display her sculptures. A large exhibition of her works was organized in 1984. In 2005 a large art display featuring the works of Rodin and Claudel was exhibited in Quebec City, Canada and Detroit, Michigan, USA. In 2008, the Musée Rodin organized a retrospective exhibition including more than 80 of her works.

The publication of several biographies in the 1980s sparked a resurgence of interest in her work.

The motion picture Camille Claudel was made about her life in 1988. Co-produced by Isabelle Adjani, starring herself as Claudel and Gérard Depardieu as Rodin, the film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1989.

In 2003, plans were announced to turn the Claudel family home at Nogent-sur-Seine into a museum, which was negotiating to buy works from the Claudel family. These include 70 pieces by Camille Claudel, including a bust of Rodin.

Camille Claudel was produced as a musical by Goodspeed Musicals at The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut in 2003. Broadway's Linda Eder starred as Camille Claudel. Her then-husband, Frank Wildhorn, composed the music to the show, while Nan Knighton wrote the book and lyrics. Gabrielle Barre directed the production and Mark Dendy choreographed. The musical is currently being revised and edited and may open on Broadway in the future. She is also referenced in the Franz Ferdinand song Outsiders.

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