Camille Claudel


Paris, Musée Rodin, from 15 April to 20 July 2008

1. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Auguste Rodin, 1892
Bronze - 40.4 x 24.6 x 28 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008

Except for the presentation organized by the Musée Marmottan in 2005, the last important retrospective on Camille Claudel dates back to 1991 and was also at the Musée Rodin at a time when this artist was still unfamiliar to the general public. It would be useful in fact to recall for the benefit of younger generations that the name of Camille Claudel, until quite recently, did not really mean anything and that few references to her work as an artist could be found in art history between 1930 and 1980. Having started from “nothing”, the sculptress, whose fame was as unfairly lacking as that of such artists as Jules Desbois and Alexandre Charpentier, was soon to reach great heights both in art history and on the market. The reasons for this, alas, are well-known and are more related to sociological and media causes than to the art itself. A woman rather than a sculptor, heroine of a romantic love affair with Rodin, so-called victim of psychiatric abuse, popular movie role for Miss Isabelle Adjani, etc. : all clichés which did of course serve the purpose of bringing the work of Camille Claudel to light again. Her art alone was not enough, as is often the case, to reveal her to the public and, after the unexpected rise of the Claudel myth, market interest (and interests) put a final touch on this unusual resurrection with both pleasant, but also less palatable, touches. Books, catalogues, exhibitions, countless namings of schools and cultural centers, record auction prices, battles among rival specialists, studies of antecedents and opportunistic ambitions, lawsuits and controversies, discoveries of new works, hasty changes in attributions of old works : suffice it to say that the contemporary history of her work is as full of twists and turns, excesses of all kinds as the myth itself. We can, therefore, only commend the current exhibition which attempts to extract the artist from the many stories built up around her in order to simply present her work. Although some museum-goers may be disappointed, the chapel in the Musée Rodin is thus not a treatise on feminist art (major, and unfortunately, persistent idiocy of art history) nor an illustration of Camille’s (her first name is, apparently, now the accepted term) love life, and even less a teary-eyed tribute to the artist’s tragic fate. Voyeurs need not make the visit as it is intended for those art lovers who wish to see the works. The latter will be more than rewarded by their find.

2. William Elborne
Camille Claudel working to
Sakountala in her Workshop
, 1887
Papier albuminé - 15.1 x 8.3 cm
Photo : Musée Rodin

3. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
The Waltz, 1899-1905
Bronze - 43.2 x 23 x 34.3 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008


Initiated by the Mapfré Vida Foundation, who contacted several French collectors starting in 2000, the exhibition could not have taken place however without the Musée Rodin who generously came into the project, extending its scope. The collaboration between the two establishments (the Spanish foundation is in charge of the catalogue and was awarded first turn in Madrid for the show) has produced a model event in its scientific quality as well as in its thorough and welcomely understated presentation. The various spaces that have been set up in the museum chapel and the vestibule (though a bit narrow) leading to it are covered in peaceful colours, bypassing either a clinical white or a more emphatic staging. Despite somewhat overbearing bases for the statues, the presentation of the works is satisfactory. The itinerary is both chronological and thematic allowing the visitor to follow the artist’s evolution clearly while the accompanying didactic tools, brief but sufficient, avoid superfluous remarks to go to the heart of the matter. The effect as a whole certainly does not produce a major aesthetic experience and it is hard to say there is any real scenography here but the bareness of the presentation serves the works well. The chapel in the Musée Rodin resembles a workshop offering up the pieces to the viewer without enhancement or flattery.

4. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
La Petite Châtelaine, 1895
Marble - 34.6 x 28.4 x 22.7 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008

Organized into eight sections, the exhibition assembles over eighty sculptures, graphic works, photographs and various documents. Many of the items are unpublished and, despite the fact that the corpus is well-known, helps to enrich it further. After several portraits of Camille Claudel, including those by Rodin from around 1884, we follow the young woman’s first steps as she turns to close friends and relatives for her models. About ten pieces, including the portraits of Paul Claudel at different ages, even if they remain enclosed in a certain academic style, reveal nonetheless an acute eye, a precocious obsession with Time and the manner in which it imprints itself on a face. The period during which the artist worked in Rodin’s workshop is illustrated here by an extensive number of works. The women’s torsos and the Man Bending Over, as well as the Giganti and the laughing heads, help to understand how Camille Claudel learned progressively and marks what the curators of the exhibition wisely qualify as “Rodin’s syntax”. A student’s work, true, but already a personal one and with a modelé which is different from that of the Master’s. The portraits of Rodin by Camille Claudel (ill. 1), from the same year in which she left his workshop, are proof of her individuality. With Sakountala (ill. 2), later to become Vertumnus and Pomona, the artist takes on her first major subject ; the choice of theme (the question of destiny) confirms straight out the Symbolist orientation of a life’s work which, more than just an autobiographical reflection, will continuously be marked by a metaphysical search. Thus The Waltz (ill. 3), in its many variations, through its dizzying spins, evokes a vital and cosmic dance : Gustave Geffroy, along with many other observers, had fully understood the Symbolist dimension of this essential work, a new meaning of the struggle with the angel. The sinuous turnings of The Waltz, far from Raoul Larche or Agathon Léonard, is obviously meant to be compared more to a Symbolist vision than to any similar work from Art Nouveau, as explained in the catalogue. In the same way, the opposition between the very pure and innocent Petite châtelaine (ill. 4) (an almost Maeterlinck-like vision) and the emaciated face of Clotho (ill. 5), an image of death, reveals the artist’s philosophical obsessions. Unlike Rodin’s work, which is indeed more abundant but less unified in its conception, in walking through the exhibition one perceives the intimate tie linking the works and the unfolding of an eminently coherent reflection. The extraordinary L’Âge mûr (Maturity) (ill. 6), which might seem to have been planned as an allegory, also finds itself uncompromisingly in a Symbolist sphere. The plastic means blend with the theme so forcefully that the work surpasses a simple reading, taking on a suggestive polysemous dimension. The autobiographical interpretation of this gripping group (Rodin, Rose Beuret, Camille Claudel) was obviously pegged on after it was created and does not really add anything to the understanding of a work that is truly universal in its reach.

5. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Clotho, 1893 (detail)
Plaster - 89.9 x 49.3 x 43 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008

6. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
L’Âge mûr, c. 1893-1899
Bronze - 114 x 163 x 72 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008


The same can be said of those pieces which the artist herself called “little things”. Although the different versions of the Causeuses (Chatterers) (ill. 7) and Deep Thought are comparable in their format, polychromatic finish and sometimes their utilitarian purpose to the development of decorative arts, these delicate sculptures also reflect the artist’s constant questioning. The small group of women, inspired by a conversation in a train compartment, transform themselves into vaguely prehistoric Fates and the contemplation of the flames in the small fireplace of Deep Thought (sadly the only original light still working was not lit like at the Musée Van Gogh) becomes almost a fortunetelling scene. As for the famous Wave (ill. 8), the imposing mass of onyx which seems on the verge of drowning the small bronze figures imposes a menacing air in contrast with the lightheartedness of the characters who are unaware of the impending disaster : yet another image of fate, which recalls Victor Hugo’s famous drawing My Destiny (1867) rather than Hokusaï’s Wave. The last works, Perseus and the Gorgon along with commissioned portraits, add little to a body of work that was already complete leading the viewer to meditate on what was to be the artist’s long reclusion for the rest of her life.

7. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Les Causeuses, 1895 (detail)
Plaster with broken fan -
114 x 163 x 72 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008

8. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Wave, 1897 (détail)
Onyx and bronze on marble socle -
62 x 56 x 50 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008


8. Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
L’Implorante, c. 1893-1905 (detail)
Bronze - 28.4 x 30.3 x 16.5 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Ch. Baraja/Musée Rodin
© ADAGP Paris, 2008

When visiting this exhibition, the visitor is thus struck by the coherent and dense character of the works fully conveying their meaning. In Camille Claudel’s art, formal experimentation remains solidly at the service of an Idea, and her art, from 1884 to 1905, falls squarely inside the Symbolist context. Can the “mystery” of Camille Claudel, or her so-called “madness”, not be explained simply by the imperious need (the “imploring” (ill. 9) need ?) of transmitting a fundamental message by means of a form, that of the inexorable submission of human beings to Time ? Once the work is achieved, not an endless search for “something new” in sculpture or the pure pleasure of shaping and carving, but “just” the accomplished expression of a gripping conviction, the artist puts down her chisel and falls silent. Far from a dulling of the senses or a beatic contemplation of an art which survives on its repetition, Camille Claudel’s work expresses above all a Meaning and does not hide behind the illusion of form in perpetual movement. After making her message clear, vehemently so, she chooses creative abstinence and enters forever the realm of the Idea, and silence. This is perhaps the most striking lesson to be drawn from this magnificent work, a lesson that many contemporary artists would do well to heed.

Collective work, Camille Claudel, Fundacion Mapfré (diffusion Editions Gallimard), Musée Rodin, 424 p., 39,95 €. ISBN 978-2-35377-006-9.

Visitor Information : Musée Rodin, 79, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. Phone : + 33 (0)1 44 18 61 10. Open Tuesday throught Sunday from 9.30 to 17.45. Fees : 7 € (exhibition and garden)

Musée Rodin Website


Jean-David Jumeau-Lafond, dimanche 25 mai 2008



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