Camille Claudel was born in 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois, France. Her brother Paul Claudel was born four years later and would become an important person in Camille Claudel’s life. When her family moved to Paris, Camille Claudel entered the Colarossi Academy, where women studied alongside male students. After meeting the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin, she became his student, model, muse, and lover. Camille was a talented sculptor herself, but her relationship with Auguste Rodin often overshadowed her work. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1913 where she spent the last thirty years of her life. Here are 7 artworks made by Camille Claudel.
1. Camille Claudel’s Old Helen, 1881-1882
The work Old Helen or Bust of an Old Woman is an example of Camille Claudel’s early work. According to her first biographer Mathias Morhardt, Old Helen is the artist’s first signed work. The elderly woman depicted here was one of the Claudel family’s servants. The representation of old age was a recurring theme in Claudel’s work.
The time when the bust was created coincided with Camille Claudel’s time as a student at the Colarossi Academy. Claudel lived in Paris and shared a studio with other young female artists. The French sculptor Alfred Boucher visited the studio once a week to help the artists with their work.
The naturalistic style of Bust of an Old Woman reveals the influence of Alfred Boucher on Claudel’s work. When Boucher was awarded the Grand Prix du Salon, he left for Florence in 1882. His friend Auguste Rodin took over his work as an instructor, so Camille became his student. Rodin first visited her studio at the end of 1882 or at the beginning of 1883. There, he probably encountered Claudel’s Bust of an Old Woman which was one of two or three works the artist displayed at the studio at the time.
2. Sakuntala, 1886, by Camille Claudel
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Camille Claudel’s large-scale work Sakuntala received an honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes in 1888. The piece depicts a young couple embracing each other. It was inspired by a drama written by the Hindu poet Kālidāsa in the fourth or fifth century. The play revolves around the romantic relationship of King Duṣyanta and the young Śakuntalā. They meet at a hunting party and fall in love immediately. When King Duṣyanta has to leave Śakuntalā, he gives her a ring as a token of his love. Due to a curse, King Duṣyanta only remembers her when he sees her ring, but Śakuntalā loses the ring. Consequently, the King forgets Śakuntalā and only remembers her when a fisherman who found the ring brings it to him. King Duṣyanta then tries to find her and takes her back to his palace. It is not clear which scene of the play inspired Camille Claudel’s sculpture, and whether she depicted the meeting of the two lovers or the reunion.
Claudel worked long hours to complete the sculpture. We know from her letters that she saw two models per day. The female model of the sculpture came by in the morning and the male model in the evening. She often worked for 12 hours each day.
3. Young Girl with a Sheaf, c. 1890
Compared to her large-scale work Sakuntala, Young Girl with a Sheaf is rather small. Camille Claude’s smaller sculptures were popular with private collectors, and she made several editions for her buyers. The artist created 12 pieces cast in bronze and one in terra cotta of Young Girl with a Sheaf.
Claudel wanted to be involved in the casting process. Since most artists at the time simply created a clay model which was then given to an expert to be cast, this was a unique aspect of her work. Young Girl with a Sheaf is an example of the influence Claudel and Rodin had on each other. Rodin often finished a work that was made by Camille and then signed it, which was not uncommon at the time. However, in some cases, this made it difficult to distinguish between pieces by different sculptors. Rodin’s Galatea and Camille Claudel’s Young Girl with a Sheaf, for example, look very similar. Rodin’s work was created one or two years after Claudel’s piece. They both depict a young girl sitting, covering her breast with her right arm, and looking to the right.
4. The Waltz, c. 1893
Camille Claudel tried to receive a commission from the government for her waltzing figures. She wanted to create a version made out of marble. The Minister of Fine Arts sent someone to inspect the original work. The inspector found the dancing couple too sexually provocative and Camille was advised to portray the figures dressed in more clothing. Auguste Rodin unsuccessfully tried to defend her.
For a couple of months, Claudel worked on making a more appropriate version. When she was done, she submitted it to the inspector again. It was accepted by the Minister of Fine Arts, however, this time the Director of Fine Arts Henry Roujon did not give his approval. He still found the sculpture inappropriate. It was uncommon to commission a work from a female artist and approving a work with a sexual feel made by a woman was a step too far. Defenders of Claudel’s work tried to convince Roujon to reconsider, however, he did not change his mind. When The Waltz was exhibited at the 1893 Salon National des Beaux-Arts, it received critical acclaim. The critics praised the visible emotion and interaction between the two figures.
5. The Gossips, 1893
The Gossips was inspired by a group of chatting women on a train ride which the artist observed. When she came back to her studio, she modeled the scene from memory. The sculpture is part of Camille Claudel’s series Sketches from Nature. The series includes ordinary subjects from daily life. The Gossip was exhibited at the Champ de Mars in 1895 and received positive responses from critics and the public. Since the work was so popular, Claudel made several versions. These versions included works in marble, bronze, and green onyx.
A magazine article about the work was especially favorable. It openly encouraged the Ministry to commission more artworks by Camille Claudel. Rodin also tried to support her by arranging a meeting between Claudel and the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Art. When an inspector visited her to commission a bust from her, Claudel requested financial funds to finish her work The Age of Maturity instead.
6. The Age of Maturity, 1902
The work The Age of Maturity is often interpreted as an allusion to Claudel’s affair with Rodin who seems to be getting dragged away by an older woman. In this interpretation, Claudel would be represented in the figure of the younger woman who is left behind on her knees, reaching out for Rodin who is leaving. The artist’s brother Paul Claudel said about the work: My sister Camille, Imploring, humiliated, on her knees, that superb, proud creature, and what is being wrenched from her, right there before your very eyes, is her soul.
When Rodin saw the piece he was offended and angry that Camille would exhibit a sculpture that publicly displayed what he felt was a private matter. The sculpture can also be seen as a portrayal of more general themes like death, the passing of time, and the inevitability of aging. The Age of Maturity was commissioned by the state in 1895 and exhibited in plaster in 1899, but a state commission of the work in bronze or marble was never fully realized. The ministry commissioned the piece in bronze but withdrew it shortly afterward. Camille Claudel fought the cancellation of the commission, but it was the private collector Captain Tissier who ultimately commissioned the work in bronze in 1902.
7. Camille Claudel’s Paul Claudel Aged Thirty-Seven, 1905
The bust Paul Claudel Aged Thirty-Seven was created towards the end of the artist’s career. Camille also made other sculptures of her brother during many different stages of his life. Except for her brother and her father, Camille did not have a positive relationship with her family. Her mother condemned her lifestyle and did not want to see her.
Camille became increasingly paranoid and reclusive. She felt that Rodin was trying to kill her and accused him of stealing her sculpture. After 1905, she destroyed several of her works and withdrew from her friends.
When her father, who always supported and protected her died in 1913, Camille was not informed about it. Her brother Paul was worried about his sister’s declining mental and physical health and admitted her to the Ville-Evrard mental hospital the same year. In 1914, Camille was transferred to the asylum of Montdevergues. She stayed there until she died at the age of 78 in 1943. Her brother, her friend of many years Jessie Lipscomb, and Lipscomb’s husband were the only people who visited Camille at the hospital. With her admission to the mental hospital her short but productive career ended. Eight years after Camille’s death, her first retrospective was shown at the Musée Rodin.