Some Beautiful (If Tortured) Works
of Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel's angry works, Maturity, Clotho, and Perseus and The Gorgon cannot be included with these. The works here have some beauty even in their sadness or dejection. I could also have included Sakountala and Dream by the Fire.

I vigorously object to the claim that Camille Claudel had no style of her own or that there is no cohesion. Although I am indebted to J.A. Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth's book for some of the images and chronology (also to about a dozen other books here), I do not agree with him that Claudel is a reprise of Rodin, that Claudel was unable to extract herself from literal and physical representation, or that Claudel is not as bold as her contemporaries who eventually displaced Rodin. In an obvious attempt to rescue his own past Rodin-scholarship, this person's text is outrageously insensitive and reactionary, even mendacious. His interpretive comparisons are locked in the subject matter instead of rising to the design.

Claudel is not a pawn in feminist and anti-feminist discussion, or inter-generational battles within the art critic world. If praise for the Claudel work is faint and short, the problem is the scope of what is considered to be her work (for some the problem is also in appreciating the intensity of her expression; she is immoderate, to be sure).

We know Camille's hand whenever we see instantaneous design (as opposed to Rodin's long-agonized arrangement, splayed, configured, and recombined) or when we see demure sweet innocence (as opposed to melodrama lacking in emotional candor). We know Camille's input when we see a pose that makes sense to a dancer's eyes (Rodin's earlier and later works do not make sense). It's so obvious to anyone who has studied movement instead of pose.

Did Camille alter the figure? Does the woman keep her knees together? No further signature need be given. (This might not be fair, since Rodin's women become less exhibitionist just before he meets Camille... depending on what you think of the dates of Eternal Springtime and Fugitive Love, both of which evolved considerably in this period.)

The Prayer (Psalm)
The Waltz
Little Girl with Doves
The Implorer
The Flute Player (The Little Siren)
Age 25 Age 27-29 Age 34 Age 36 Age 40
A short break-up with Rodin. This piece is close to Rodin's Thought, but shows a figure directed outward, in fact beckoning, not inward and pensive. Note Sakuntala (spelled several different ways) in plaster the year before, perhaps contemporaneous with Rodin's The Eternal Idol and influencing it. Back with Rodin in 1891, breaks again in 1893. Note after the break, the supremely ugly Clotho, 1893. Satire drawings of Rodin and Rose Beuret, 1892. First maquette of Maturity, 1894, symbolizing the love triangle and depicting Rose Beuret as a death figure. Final break with Rodin. Variation on detail from Maturity, symbolizing the 1898 final break, which is itself related to God Flown Away from the 1894 break. Penultimate sculpture before "persecution mania"; note 1902 Perseus and the Gorgon is the last angry reference to Rose Beuret. Final work is Woman Kneeling before a Hearth, which shows resignation.
Rodin sculpts Camille as The Kiss, The Eternal Idol and The Sculptor and His Muse; has already sculpted Camille in Eternal Springtime in 1884, and as L'Aurore in 1885, Danaid and The Thought, 1886. Rodin sculpts Camille as The Farewell, The Convalescent, and The Head of Camille Claudel. Rodin sculpts Rose Beuret. Rodin again uses Camille's face in La France, 1904, and possibly in Pain: Remembrance of Eleonora Duse.

With Camille, Rodin's work becomes pure, simple, and elegantly romantic. One is supposed to say that this was her inspiration, but the evidence is there to call it her influence.

Once they meet, Rodin begins to express singular thoughts in sculpture rather than idolizing physical form. This shift happens at a notoriously uncreative stage in life, from a man not generally praised as a font of ideas. Rodin predominantly sculpts masculine form; Claudel the reverse. Bereft of Claudel's influence, in 1898 Rodin returns to his earlier anatomical and religious manner and matter. Most of Rodin's work without Camille Claudel could hang on a church door (not so, Claudel's work). Camille Claudel, meanwhile, continues after the breakup to produce ideaed sculpture, forms that convey one clear idea each. She continues to focus on the relationships between man and woman, and introduces the theme of the child: the entailment of the man-woman relationship that Rodin "refused to acknowledge." One must admit the continuity of Rodin's beautiful period (1883 - 1898) not in Rodin's own Hand of God but in Claudel's Implorer and Little Siren. Alone, Rodin is a sculptor of French heros for the public gardens, at best, a maker of Balzac and at worst, Iris. Alone, Claudel's works could stand with ideas as far removed as Giacometti.

(A Rodin page.)

Some of Rodin's work while under Camille's influence

Half of these are portraits of Camille (these can all be enlarged by viewing the image).
Kneeling Fauness (Toilette of Venus), 1884, Meditation, 1884, The Danaid, 1885, and again, The Martyr, 1885, Camille Claudel in a Phygrian Cap, 1886, Toilette of Venus again, The Thought, 1886, The Minotaur, 1886, 1886, Fatigue, 1887, Eternal Idol, 1889, Grief-Stricken Danaid, 1889, Brother and Sister, 1890, The Farewell, 1892, and France, 1904, and again.

One need only compare the vulgarity of Rodin's early sketches for Paolo and Francesca da Ramini, 1880 (to which we trace The Kiss) and the forced exhibitionism of Crouching Woman, 1881, from before Rodin met Claudel, with the sweetness of the next fifteen years' work.

So perhaps Camille Claudel was really not deranged when she claimed that Rodin had gotten the credit for her ideas. And what should we think of Rodin's Galatée and The Brother and The Sister compared with Camille's Young Girl with a Sheaf? Apparently in 1890, two artists claimed the exact same work (certainly from the same model's sitting, but closer still!). Look at the knees, the hand, and the attitude of the head. Is this really Auguste Rodin's view of a young woman? Did Camille parade The Thought around Europe claiming it was her self-portrait? Rodin had done just that with Camille's bust of him.

I certainly do not say any of this in concert with the activists who deny individual responsibility, who think Claudel was Rodin's victim. She was an artist and a lover who knew the score and made her choices. Rodin appears to have acted at least as well as could be expected given the situation he created, though there are some damning questions that could be asked. Rodin is the master sculptor, undeniably, and it is from his hand that the beautiful portraits of Camille flowed. Without Camille, he deserves all the praise and study of, for example, a Bernini. Rejected, fallen, no longer the siren of her youth, genuinely artistic in mood, angry at an inarguably paternal and name-driven art world, misplayed under the French conception of mistress, cheated and perceptive enough to see it, probably hormonally unbalanced from the start -- but probably not deserving the asylum -- and almost certainly maternally disfigured, Camille struggles. She struggles for a new style, to innovate away in fact from her own natural style, which Rodin had (very understandably) adopted. I want to say coopted. She deserves more than the Mary Cassatt, the Alma Schindler, the Gala Gala.

I even see in Rodin's Burghers of Calais a different approach to design, consistent with the modern approach of Claudel, and inconsistent with Rodin's inclination for orgiastic human splatter best exemplified in the grotesque mess that is Gates of Hell. Rodin was a surgeon. His talent was for permuting the pieces in Age of Bronze. Claudel was exactly The Little Siren and Flute Player of her penultimate work.

Am I a revisionist who is too impressed with Adjani's weeping blue eyes and César's portrait of a nineteen-year old woman so full of herself she can barely sit for a photo? I don't think so. In fact, I finally understand why so much of the Stanford, Philadelphia, and Paris Rodin galleries bores me, even repulses me, except for that period of Claudel. And now I see that my favorite private works look right with Camille's flowing Waltz, the perfect bridge to Art Nouveau. I had loved Rodin and want to admire him, but the more I think about it, the more I think I really loved Camille.

Young Girl with a Sheaf, 1890

"Claudel, Camille (-Rosalie)" Britannica Online.

Grunfeld's biography of Rodin has the following points that were not in the Bruno Nuytten movie (which appears to be otherwise quite accurate, in terms of personal relations if not always in terms of timeline):

  • Auguste Beuret (Rodin's son with Rose Beuret) took part in the Rodin classes that first brought Camille and Jessie Lipscomb together with Rodin.

  • "[Rodin] ... consulted her in everything. ... He would deliberate with her on every decision that had to be taken, and not until she was in agreement would he venture to take a decisive step," wrote Morhardt.

  • Morhardt's collection of letters from Rodin to Camille "disclosed her misfortune" but has disappeared from the Museé Rodin. Grunfeld speculates they might have been suppressed, as one who saw the letters says he "did not have the right to say more" and another said they would never be published because of "discretion".

  • Jessie Lipscomb's recollections have it that Rodin had two children with Camille. Judith Cladel (no relation to Claudel) asked Rodin if it had been four. Grunfeld includes some discussion as to whether Rodin helped pay for some of these children's expenses.

  • Camille gave a copy of La Valse to Claude DeBussy, which was on the composer's mantel until his death. Others have speculated that there was a romantic relationship; in any case, it appears that the younger DeBussy was more taken with Camille than vice versa.

  • Most of the models in Paris at the time were young Italian girls, aged sixteen to twenty-one. So Camille's youth was not unusual. But Rodin was indeed unusually drawn to young women: Mirbeau tells of a dinner at Monet's house with four daughters, where "Rodin spent the whole dinner looking at them, but looking at them in such a way that, one by one, each of the four girls was obliged to get up and leave the table." In another story, Rodin stole the girlfriend of a poet, Louÿs, whose anger subsided when he saw "her image, already alive, rising out of the clay, more beautiful than ever."

  • Even as an old woman, Rose Beuret "quivered with rage and jealousy" at the mere recollection of Camille, and was once sent for convalescence, delirious and "railing against Rodin's mistresses." "There are unconfirmed reports that the two women came to blows when Rose blundered into the Folie Neufborg and found him together with her rival." According to Kenneth Clark, Rose even shot at her.

  • Rodin sent Camille a student, Ottie McLaren, in 1899 (Camille, 35), who wrote that she would make a "stunning teacher"; her work "is big and simple and seems to have that womanly quality which I like so immensely. She herself is very charming...". But on the eve of the first lesson, she writes to say "she prefers her solitude." Then, "Mlle Claudel was off in the tantrums again."

  • Camille was actually 45 when her mother and brother had her committed. She had changed considerably (there is a picture of a very different woman -- Camille at 38 -- working on Perseus and the Gorgon in Ruth Butler's volume),

  • Camille's mother and sister never came to visit her in the asylum, and even refused to permit her to be released into the family's custody when the staff psychiatrists recommended it. Jessie Lipscomb and her husband visited, convinced "it was not true that she was insane." Morhardt "ventured the opinion that she had been betrayed by her family. 'Paul Claudel is a simpleton. When one has a sister who is a genius one doesn't abandon her. But he always thought that he was the one who had the genius.'"

  • Grunfeld writes: "One day in the last year of his life [Rodin] paused meditatively before a terra cotta bust of Camille [(in the Museé Rodin)]. 'She's shut up at Ville-Evrard,' a visitor said. Rodin reacted as though he had been stung. 'You could not have touched on a more painful subject!'"

    I can recommend Gérard Bouté's Camille Claudel: La Miroir et la Nuit and Catherine Lampert's Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings. Also Ruth Butler's Rodin: The Shape of Genius. Of course, Frederic Grunfeld's Rodin: A Biography.