Camille Claudel

John Gehl sends us this bio of the neglected artist Camille Claudel (1864-1943), for whom the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin served as teacher, mentor, and lover. Their complicated relationship formed the basis of the  Henrik Ibsen play, "When We Dead Awaken," as well as the 1989 film "Camille Claudel," starring Isabelle Adjani as Claudel and Gerard Depardieu as Rodin.  As a young girl, Claudel (sister of the great French poet and diplomat Paul Claudel) entered one of the few art academies open to female students, the Academie Colarossi, where she became one of Rodin's students.  With Rodin 43 and Claudel 19, they began a 15-year relationship, which was very productive artistically for both of them, but damaging to Claudel's chances of becoming an independently successful artist. When the relationship ended in 1898, Claudel experienced extreme  financial hardship and began to succumb to mental illness.  A few years later she was committed to a mental hospital, where she lived until she died 30 years later. The art critic Whitney Chadwick says, "Claudel's assistance in Rodin's studio helped insure his myth of superhuman productivity during the 1880s and early 1890s and much of her creative output remains to be disengaged from his work of these years."

RH: In Paris I lived near the Musée Rodin, so for me his sculptures became just part of the landscape.  His life was full of bitter controversy, and his treatment of Camille Claudel suggests he was a cad.  He dumped her after many years, reducing her to madness. Before he died in 1917, he too became mentally unbalanced. If only they had stayed together, this double tragedy might have been avoided. Curiously, Rodin was very interested in Dante, whose Divine Comedy inspired his "The Gates of Hell", which occupied many years of his life.  I wonder what he thought aboot the story of Paolo and Francesca, whose tale is told in Canto V.                

Phyllis Gardner comments on the story of poor Camille Caudel: "One of my most memorable occasions was the viewing of Camille Claudel's work, public for the first time since her break-up with Rodin, at the Musee Rodin in the spring of 1984.  Her work was beautiful, and the guides said that they believed that Camille Claudel could have had as much impact on Rodin as vice versa.  According to the exhibit press, Rodin broke up with her to have an affair with another woman, hiding her work away until it resurfaced in 1984.  She was hospitalized in a mental institution, no doubt at the instigation of Rodin, who wanted her away.  When her physicians deemed her competent for release, her renowned brother refused to authorize it (according to French law, the family must approve), so she languished away in the mental institution for the rest of her life.  Apparently Paul Claudel later expressed deep regret for not releasing her.  It seems almost inconceivable to us today.  I keep the exhibit poster framed on my wall.  What I have written is from my memory of the literature from the exhibition".

RH: Cads, cads, cads!! 



Ronald Hilton -