Camille Claudel Comes out of Hiding

1. Camille Claudel (1864 -1943)
Vertumnus and Pomona, 1905
Marble - 91 x 80 x 41.8 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : AGAGP

7/10/13 - Exhibition - Paris, Musée Rodin - She died twice in a way : locked up in 1919, then passed away in 1943 ; she never sculpted again for the last thirty years of her life. The Musée Rodin in Paris is paying tribute to Camille Claudel, who died seventy years ago, by staging an exhibition from 1st to 20th October (just a month then) [1], with the twenty-two sculptures by the artist residing in the collections, of which four of the most beautiful were donated by her brother, Paul Claudel : Vertumnus and Pomona, Adulthood (two versions) and Clotho. Plaster, marble, bronze of different periods reflect the various stages in the (too) short career of the woman who, after training with Alfred Boucher, joined Rodin’s workshop in 1884, becoming his student then his assistant, "praticienne", muse and mistress.
A showcase displays her experiments with different expressive heads and body fragments. She underwent the influence of her master of course, as reflected in Young Woman with a Sheaf, a direct allusion to Rodin’s Galatea. The same shadows in The Kiss and The Eternal Idol can also be found in Sakountala, Claudel’s first important sculpture illustrating a text by the poet and playwright Kalidasa ; Sakountala and his wife reunited after being separated by a spell. The first version in plaster dates from around 1886, but it is not until 1905 that the work emerged in marble, under the title Vertumnus and Pomona (ill. 1), and in bronze (cast by Eugène Blot) entitled as Abandonment. In fact, it is interesting to see how the interpretation of an Indian legend evolved into the treatment of Greco-Roman mythology and took its definitive form in a more intimate subject. The treatment of the marble, its very polished aspect, notably for the skin, are characteristic of Camille Claudel who favored carving directly and a physical hands-on approach to the piece : she worked the stone herself unlike Rodin [2] though she also called on assistants such as François Pompon for some of her sculptures.

2. Camille Claudel (1864 -1943)
Adulthood or Destiny
or Life’s Journey, or Fate, 1899
Bronze - 121 x 181 x 73 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : ADAGP

3. Camille Claudel (1864 -1943)
The Wave or The Bathers, 1897-1903 (?)
Marble onyx, bronze - 62 x 56 x 50 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : ADAGP

The break came in 1892, illustrated by Adulthood (ill. 2), which is generally seen as autobiographical, since Rodin had to choose between Rose Beuret and Camille Claudel, who represents herself as the woman imploring. Two versions are on view in the museum rooms, the first - in plaster from around 1894-1895 - shows a still hesitant man, while the second one - in bronze - shows him marked by old age. More generally, the work tells us of "life’s journey" and "destiny", a theme which haunted the sculptor ; we find it again notably in Clotho, one of the Fates, with her emaciated and withered body, barely hidden by her hair which gives her the air of a spider.
Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Jules Desbois looked at the same model ; one tranformed her into Winter, the other Misery. Camille Claudel’s Swirling Waltz was exhibited the same year as Clotho, offering a counterpoint with the image of enamoured youth swept away by passion. The nudity of the two dancers was found more shocking than the old body of the Fate and the artist covered them with a draped effect.

Progressively, Camille Claudel attempted to distance herself from the master’s hold by turning to more intimate compositions and "did sketches from nature" of everyday life in works which were smaller, more decorative, in various materials, combining for example bronze with onyx. Thus we see The Chatterers whose nudity bestows a certain timelessness in contrast with their gossiping attitude. The Wave (ill. 3), also in onyx, shows us the same female models, distinctly revealing a general Japanese influence, and in particular that of Hokusai, the author of the famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1831). The taste for polychromatic effects was also popular at the time and Charles Cordier for instance, made extensive use of it.
Finally, Perseus and the Gorgon is one of the sculptor’s last important works, in a dramatic mirror effect : the Gorgon is a self-portrait of Camille herself. Rodin called her "my ferocious friend".

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 7 octobre 2013


13/10/13 : The exhibition of Camille Claudel’s works has been extended until 5th January 2014.


[1] As we point out in our post-scriptum, the show has been extended through 5th January 2014.

[2] The exhibition (see our article in French) "Rodin la chair et le marbre" explained it clearly.

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