Sunday, February 17, 2013

CAMILLE CLAUDEL (8 December 1864 – 19 October 1943) ARTIST, MUSE, & MYTH: HER LIFE THROUGH HER WORK

This splendid young woman, in the triumphal glow of beauty and genius…A superb forehead over two magnificent eyes of a dark blue that we rarely see outside of novels…this large mouth, more proud than sensual, this powerful mass of chestnut hair, the true chestnut called auburn by the English, and which fell down her back. An impressive air of courage, directness, superiority, gaiety.  One who was endowed with much.”  Paul Claudel from Ma Soeur Camille, Camille’s brother.

In a small town nestled among the fields and rolling hills of the Champagne region, in Fere-en-Tardenois, France, Camille Claudel was born on the 8th of December in 1864 to Madame Louise-Athanaise Cervaux Claudel and Louis-Prosper Claudel, a French middle class family.  Camille proved to be more like her father in nature, imaginative, quick-tempered, and with a sarcastic sense of humor.  Monsieur Claudel received a humanistic education in a Jesuit school and possessed a substantial classical library. His main contribution to the family resources was as a registrar, a good reason why he was remembered as thrifty and conservative in his political views.  He was a crucial force behind his children’s artistic achievements.  As far as Camille was concerned, he proved to be a very liberal father, and until his death in 1913, he remained her staunchest supporter. 
 

Paul describes The Claudel Family in his Memoires improvise,Everyone quarreled in the family: my father and my mother quarreled, the children quarreled with the parents, and they quarreled much with each other. Conflict was a daily occurrence.  In sharp contrast to her husband, Madame Claudel, is described by Paul, “She was a sullen, unassuming woman, with a rural rather than bourgeois character.” His sister Camille remembers her as, “the spirit of forbearance that exuded from her person, her hands crossed over her knees in an expression of complete self-sacrifice: everything pointing to humility, to a sense of duty pushed to the extreme.

One vitally important aspect of Madame Claudel’s character and sense of self is noted again by second born son, Paul Claudel, “Louise-Athanaise Cerveaux, Madame Claudel had been brought up by her father, dr. Athanase Cerveaux, after her mother’s early death. Sadly, this motherless childhood appears to have crippled her emotionally, shaping her into a rigid woman unable to express feelings of tenderness: our mother never kissed us.”

An example of art classes at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 1908

 In 1881 The Claudel Family moved to Paris, living in an Montparnasse apartment where Paul was enrolled in the prestigious lycee Louis-le-Grand, and Camille aged seventeen started her studies at the Acadamie Colarossi.  It is not difficult to see why Camille Claudel chose the Academie Colarossi: it taught more modeling, it was cheaper,and it gave women the same opportunities as men. The school allowed a great deal of scheduling flexibility, thanks to a curriculum that could be as short as a week and as long as ten months. Two of Camille's studio partners, British sculptors Amy Singer and Emily Fawcett, befriended Camille, possibly at Colarossi but remained her partners for several years. Sharing the cost of rent and models to cut down on expenses, they also received free lessons from Alfred Boucher, who came by the studio once or twice a week.

Camille Claudel with friend and fellow artist Ghita Theuriet  1880)

In this manner, Boucher became the patron of Camille's atelier. As his weekly visits increased the respect he held for Camille's work, he decided to introduce the young sculptor to his friend Paul Dubois, the director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Camille met Dubois and showed him several clay studies, among them David and Goliath so admired by Mathias Morhardt. Dubois immediately recognized the strength of these early works, a strength he had previously seen elsewhere, and exclaimed: "You took lessons with Monsieur Rodin!" But Camille had not yet met Rodin. She did not even know his name.
Camille Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb at their atelier N° 117 de la rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, 1887, photograph by William Easton

MASTER MEETS HIS MUSE:  THE RODIN YEARS
It was during this time Camille Claudel met Auguste Rodin. Although, no records survive describing their initial meeting, it is known that when Rodin received his first major commissions in the early 1880s, he gathered together a team of assistants to work alongside him in his studio, which Camille Claudel became a part of in 1884. She apparently spent most of her time on difficult pieces, such as the hands and feet of figures for monumental sculptures notably The Gates of Hell.  For Claudel, this was an intensive period of training under Rodin’s supervision: she learned about his profiles method and the importance of expression. In tandem, she pursued her own investigations, accepted her first commissions and sought recognition as an independent artist at the Salon. Between 1882 and 1889, Claudel regularly exhibited busts and portraits of people close to her at the Salon des Artistes Français. Largely thanks to Léon Gauchez, Rodin’s friend the Belgian art dealer and critic, several of her works were purchased by French museums during the 1890s. Claudel’s works during this period attest to Rodin’s influence: the Torso of a Standing Woman (c.1888) and the Torso of a Crouching Woman (1884-85) show how she had grasped the expressive potential of a fragment of the human body.
 Torso of a Crouching Woman (1888)

In 1888 Claudel moved out of her parents' house and rented a small apartment in Paris. Shortly after, Rodin purchased a house nearby known as La Folie-Neufbourg. Here the lovers were said to have occasionally lived together, while Rose Beuret remained at Rodin's primary residence. During this time, Rodin sculpted several portraits of Claudel, and Claudel sculpted her Bust of Rodin (1892), the artist's favorite portrait of himself. Claudel also began working on her minor masterpiece The Waltz (begun 1891), which depicts a couple entwined in a dance. In 1893 Claudel exhibited her sculptures, The Waltz and Clotho, at the Paris Salon. Claudel depicts Clotho as an elderly woman with a hauntingly wasted body, tangled in the threads of destiny she must weave. Both pieces were received well by critics, and it seemed that Claudel, about to turn 30, was entering her peak as an artist.
The Waltz by Camille Claudel
 Clotho by Camille Claudel
Rodin's residence where Rose Beuret stayed alone

As Claudel and Rodin's relationship intensified,  Rose became a subject of contention between the lovers. Claudel repeatedly asked Rodin to choose between them, but he refused, desiring to keep both women in his life. Rose, who lived with the sculptor, kept his house, and raised his child, seemed willing to accept her lover's infidelities and his lack of interest in marriage. In most circles, Beuret was known as Madame Rodin, despite their unmarried status. Rodin's unwillingness to leave Beuret would ultimately drive Claudel away and some believe this is what drove her mad.

The love affair and creative collaboration between Claudel and Rodin would last nearly 15 years. Letters from Rodin in the mid-1880s reveal just how smitten he was with the female sculptor who was 24 years his junior. Rodin in an undated letter writes in a moment of distress after a serious quarrel with camille an outpouring of confused feelings, it begins with "Ma feroce amie" and tumbles down in a passionate torrent:

My Camille be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you. I can't convince you and my arguments are powerless. You don't believe my suffering. I weep and you question it. I have not laughed in so long. I don't sing anymore everything is dull and indifferent to me. I am already a dead man and I don't understand the trouble I went through for things which are now indifferent to me. Let me see you every day; it will be a generous action and maybe ;I will get better, because you alone can save me through your kindness. 

 In 1886 he followed Claudel to England, where she was visiting The Lipscomb Family, friends whom invited her down to stay with them. Rodin showed up with an excuse but then left days later leaving Camille there for a longer visit.
 Camille is the shorter woman standing in the black dress first on the left

She is said to have had a brief romance with the composer Claude Debussy in or around 1890. Whatever passion may have existed between them was over by early 1891, however, when they ceased seeing each other. Debussy was said to have kept a small cast of The Waltz on his piano until his death.

Camille Claudel was at her most productive creatively after the breakup with Rodin. Having completed some of her most original and mature works, including L'Age Mur (1898), an autobiographical sculpture depicting a love triangle, and La Vague (1900), with three female figures bathing under an enormous wave. The latter work was indicative of a new style for Claudel, who now used onyx, a rare material, and based her compositions on an eloquent play of curves. She composed large works as well as sculptures of a more intimate scale, making quick sketches of people in the streets of Paris and returning home to sculpt them. Unfortunately, these small figures do not survive; she destroyed them all.

1913-1943: THE YEARS OF MADNESS
With creativity or creative genius does 'madness' ensue? Is creativity tied to madness or madness as nineteenth-century norms depicted? In the case of Camille Claudel society and her peers have answered with a resounding "yes!"   I sadly, answer with a resounding "no!"
Camille's immediate family, her parents, brother and sister, watched helplessly as Camille struggled for acceptance into her Parisian artistic community and society. She craved acceptance by her peers not just acknowledgement. She made great strides for a 19th century female artist. However, she would never receive the same accolades as her male counterparts. This along with her dwindling finances, coupled with her own fears, escalated her 'madness' which came out in her beginning to isolate herself in her studio apartment with the blinds closed. Neighbors told their children not to speak with her. Her family complained of how Camille would tell them that she believed her artist friends were plotting against her. Her delusions increased as she fought her creative outlet. I firmly believe that it was her creativity that gave her a type of double edged sword. In other words, she thrived on painting and sculpting. She was an artist at heart for most of her life but her insecurities, and doubts would inevitably drive her into the deepest of despair and depression.  The ultimate final nail in the coffin, came with the death of her beloved father on the second of March in 1913. It was only three days later that her mother and brother together agreed and signed papers committing her to  a mental asylum in Ville-Evrard, near Paris. Five days later two orderlies broke into Claudel's apartment and took her to the asylum in an ambulance. She was 39 years old.
She lived for the next 30 years in two mental asylums transferring to Mondevergues, near Avignon. During these years her only visitors would be her brother Paul who lived with the guilt of locking her away. Her sister never spoke to her for most of her life and her mother never visited or replied to any of Camille's letters that we know of.  The doctors at these two asylums diagnosed Camille Claudel as having, 'Persecution Mania.' The Psychological Medical Dictionary definition says, ‘a sensory disorder where the individual believes evil is planned against him, done in various ways. It can later manifest itself as a form of dementia. Sometimes aggressive behavior and hallucinations.”  Although, Persecution Mania is believed to be a genetic disorder and on Camille’s mother’s side of the family there is a history of abandonment and mental and emotional cruelty. 
Sadly, the last sculpture Camille Claudel created with her own two hands was in 1910 a bust of her brother Paul Claudel at Forty-two years of age in bronze. For thirty three years she would never create again. Remaining shut away in a home for the insane. What would that do to your creative soul? 
 Camille Claudel at Montdevergues 1929
I leave you with the beauty she created. Merci, Camille Claudel. I hope you have found your peace and are at rest. 

Feel free to leave comments,

 
 




11 comments:

Hermes said...

Fascinating post, a lot I didn't know. Confirms my opinion of Rodin but he was a genius too. Sad end to her life though and a heavy cost. Doesn't make me proud of us men.

Maggie Peters said...

What a wonderful article. I saw the famous french movie about her life with Isabelle Adjani. She gave a stunning performance. I really enjoyed reading about Camille Claudel. You brought an interesting perspective drawing conclusions about her creativity with a sense of madness. I love the photographs, too.

Kimberly Eve said...

Oh Hermes, not to worry! There are exceptions to every rule and when it comes to good men, you are definitely one of them. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Hi Maggie, I loved that movie as well. Thanks for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed my article. Thanks for stopping by!

KV said...

Excellent article! Thank you for giving us a glimpse into Camille Caudel's life. The photographs are awesome . . . .


Kathy Vorenberg

Kimberly Eve said...

Hi Kathy,
Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your kind words so much.

Kevin Marsh said...

What a sad tale and a waste of such artistic talent. The fine line between genuis and madness, well that's a subject in itself.
You should hear the voices inside my head! At least they are characters to my novels, (I think)! My wife often thinks I'm crazy, hope she doesn't have me committed. :-)

Thank you for sharing.

Regards; Kevin

Susannah Willson Disher said...

Thanks for posting this - it is extremely interesting.

Tea said...

Love Camille! She was an extraordinary woman. Thank you for the article.

Kimberly Eve said...

My pleasure, Susannah. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!

WoofWoof said...

What a sad story. You really feel for her, spending those last 30 years in the asylum, confused and distressed. It sounds like the madness came a long time after the breakup with Rodin so I'm not sure he was completely to blame. It must have been difficult for him - clearly his first duty was to the mother of his child who was really like his wife. He shouldn't really have got involved with Camille at all.I will look out for the film.

bardessdmdenton said...

I have long been fascinated with Camille Claudel and your post about her is excellent, Kimberly. Thank you for writing it and bringing attention to her superb work, unique talent, and story. I know you have seen Camille Claudel (1985 with Isabelle Adjani). I recently watched it again - it is always a powerful, moving experience. Have you seen Camille Claudel 1915 (French, 2013, Juliette Binoche plays her; about her time in mental institutions)? It is very raw and quite difficult to watch, but well worth seeing to really understand her in her "madness" and later years.

A Review: Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow

Edward Lear lived a vivid, fascinating, energetic life, but confessed, 'I hardly enjoy any one thing on earth while it is present....