Camille Claudel: Hands never lie. Study them carefully and you will know what people really think.
Female master in sculpting Camille Claudel (1864-1943), sister of author and poet Paul Claudel, had been sculpting since the age of thirteen: red clay statues of Bismarck, Napoleon, David and Goliath.
Her loving father Louis- Prosper supported her wish to be a sculptor. Alfred Boucher advised her to go to Paris, was fond of the contrasting shadows, her gift of life. Claudel revived in the capital, where she studied under Boucher at the Academy Colarossi, one of the few places where women were allowed. Auguste Rodin replaced Boucher who went to Italy, leaving Claudel discouraged. Her bust of a child caught his eye.
In 1884 the young daredevil started working in Rodin’s studio Dépôt des Marbres with male sculptors Antoine Bourdelle, Antonin Mercié, Falguière and Desbois. Although Rodin introduced her as a great sculptor, she was laughed at, badgered by the female models. Her perseverance and willpower eventually silenced them.
Her father believed she had enough talent to work independently. Although this was a fact, she simply could not at that time. She lacked money for the models, the materials.
When she went over to her master’s studio with a fragment of Dante’s Divina Commedia for the Gates of Hell, the 45 year old women lover deflowered her. She finally knew love, its language of the body as strong as love itself. Since that night the two artists hardly ever saw each other. Rodin rented a dilapidated house, Folie Neubourg, where they could work together.
During ten years she helped him create the Gates of Hell, adapted the sketches, sculpted the hands and feet. She assisted him because he needed her help and advice but wished to work more for herself. Less busts, more naked bodies.
He begged her to only be his, the only thing he could still believe in. Life went on, everybody knew she was his mistress. Later on Rodin rented an apartment for the two of them, told her he wanted to marry her. She gave herself entirely. The lonely nightmare nights were over for a short period of time until Rodin went back to his partner Rose Beuret, leaving Camille dismayed.
Camille Claudel took the hatred, the contempt, the indifference, the lack of orders to heart. Left to her fate and his enormous work, she felt the need to go away, out of Rodin’s shadow. Time was running out, she had to create while he constantly forgot to send her his models.
Down to earth Camille detested his ridicule smugness. Where has her place in this world of hypocrite superficial flattering, high society, patriarchy and Rodin’s manipulation? Her refined, luxurious sculptures contrasted with her poor looks, the cold, hunger and financial problems she experienced throughout her life. She would never dress up in order to sell pieces to the rich and famous.
When they broke up after fifteen years, she developed her own style.
Waiting for Rodin had cost her too much crucial time.
Free as a bird, the self made artist rediscovered the inspiring city, observed life eyes open wide. She constantly sketched, modeled, experimented with new materials in her own studio at the Boulevard d’Italie. Recognized as an independent sculptor by the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, her name was on everybody’s tongue.
She was compared to da Vinci, Michelangelo, called a genius. Orders were made, she worked continuously, exhibited every year. All she ever wished for, was appreciation for her work, apart from his.
Handsome Claude Debussy made her feel young and careless again, stimulated her awareness, put a smile on her face. The inseparable couple shared a passion for Turner, Edgar Allen Poe, Hokusai, … They went for city walks, visited expositions. Life suddenly seemed so sweet. Unfortunately she couldn’t stand another broken heart. The only freedom she had left was to say no.
She never had a husband, a child, a home. Driven by the energetic will to create, she sacrificed her soul for that one love she knew: stone.
In 1905 a retrospective of 13 pieces was held at Galerie Eugène Blot, followed by an after-party at Claudel’s studio. When all her belongings were confiscated the circus was over. Poverty and seclusion marked her last years.
The virgo admirabilis died lonely in 1943 after a 30 years during internment. A powerful fighter in a male dominated m’ as -tu vu art world.