My journey into art history has now entered its fifth year and it is becoming increasingly focused on specific artworks and artists.
To start 2019, I took a few days in Paris, in Montmartre, to be exact as I wanted to look at the Impressionists in more detail by roaming the area where they lived and worked. However, there was another artist who I wanted to find out more about and that was Camille Claudel.
Claudel was born in 1864, and, as a young girl, her talent for art, especially in clay was spotted by the sculptor Alfred Boucher and, at his behest, the family decided that Camille should pursue a life in sculpture. A move to Paris with her mother and siblings meant that she could enter the Académie Colarossi, as the École des Beaux-Arts did not allow women to train there.
Boucher continued to be a mentor to the young Claudel and introduced her to Auguste Rodin in 1883. The young girl and the much older Rodin embarked on a physical and mentally stimulating relationship that resulted in some of the most incredible sculptures from the hands of Claudel, but sadly, it was also the cause of her unstable mental status when the affair ended after Rodin refused to leave his long-term partner, Rose Beuret.
During the ten year relationship, Claudel worked on some of Rodin’s most important pieces, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell being amongst them. Claudel also stood out in Rodin’s workshop for her own works. Rodin’s influence and her own natural love of form and her passionate nature were obvious from the very start, as can be seen in Squatting Woman from 1884:
One train ride out of Paris to Nogent-sur-Seine and I was at the Musée Camille Claudel. The Apollo magazine ran a feature on the museum which was the inspiration for my visit. A beautiful setting and a modern building house some incredible works of art. Claudel’s work only really appears at room 10 and beyond, and it is worth spending time leading up to the first floor with the works and artists that begin the tour.
Claudel’s standout works
There are several versions of this work in one room and it is quite exquisite in its execution. The curve of the bodies of both partners show a synchronicity that can only achieved by two people totally in tune with the other. The story to go with this is that originally, both figures were nude, both this would not be acceptable for display, and therefore she added the swirling cloth as a way of compromise. The energy of this piece is almost tangible; you expect to see them dance away from us in an everlasting embrace.
This beautiful piece almost needs no words. He embraces her from a kneeling position, arms clasped behind her back. Her hands avoid touching him; her left arm is dangling and her face moves slightly away from his kiss.
The Age of Maturity has an older man being pulled away by an older woman, while the younger figure implores him to stay. It is difficult to not assume this is is a metaphoric piece describing the end of her relationship with Rodin, with Rose being the figure taking away her love.
Perseus and the Gorgon
This rendering of the story of Perseus killing Medusa was one of the most powerful pieces in the museum. Claudel modelled her own face as the Medusa, and used a number of her other works throughout; Crouching woman being one of them.
The story of Camille Claudel ended in tragedy and much has been written about her descent into paranoia and delusion. Her final years were lived in mental sanatoriums, abandoned by her family and almost resigned to forgotten history. Thankfully, her works are now receiving the recognition they deserve and her story will go on.
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