For the first time in France, a new museum will be devoted entirely to artist Camille Claudel. This new cultural institute will open on 26 March 2017 in Nogent-sur-Seine, a small town in Aube. The museum’s location was carefully chosen and is in fact Claudel’s former family home which, in its new form, will house 43 artworks from the artist. To mark the occasion, KAZoART invites you to learn more about the artist and her eventful life.

A precocious career

At just ten years of age, young Camille Claudel decided to become an artist, much to the disapproval of her family. As a teenager she was interested in sculpture, but her parents—her mother in particular—did not see the profession as a suitable pursuit for a woman. They felt Camille had no place in this male-dominated universe. Nonetheless supported by her father, she received valuable guidance from Alfred Boucher, a young sculptor she met when she was 12. She produced her first models—earthen figurines—in Nogent. A few years later, now living in Paris, she became the student of a sculptor who would leave a permanent mark on her life—Auguste Rodin, then aged 43.

Camille Claudel, La Fortune
Camille Claudel, La Fortune (Bronze, 1902-1905) / © Musée Camille Claudel, Marco Illuminati

Rodin’s student and lover

The meeting marked the start of a great love story. From this romantic union, a true artistic osmosis was born. “My dull existence broke into a fire of joy. Thank you, because it is you to whom I owe this, the part of heaven that came into my life,” Rodin wrote of his cherished pupil, who continued to call him ‘Mr Rodin’.

Claudel played several roles in Rodin’s life, acting as his model, partner and then mistress—because, yes, the man she fell so deeply in love with already shared his life with his former model Rose Beuret. The situation became increasingly unsustainable. In response, Camille began spending part of her time with Claude Debussy, who she was also briefly in a relationship with.

Camille Claudel, The Waltz
Camille Claudel, The Waltz (Flamed sandstone, 1889-1905)

Although their relationship was tumultuous, Rodin naturally had a clear influence on her art. Over a period of almost ten years, Camille Claudel produced her most iconic works, The Mature Age, The Waltz and The Abandonment. Although she recognized Rodin’s skill, she called out his long-lasting cowardice. In her eyes, it was simple, all he had to do was leave Rose Beuret… and yet… Beuret herself also felt the wrath of the young Camille, finding herself depicted as a witch in Claudel’s drawings.

Claudel became increasingly resentful of standing in Rodin’s shadow, feeling she had been relegated to the status of a simple student, when she considered herself far more. Writing to her brother Paul, she said, “The ovations of this famous man have cost me everything, and I get nothing at all!”

 Camille Claudel, The Mature Age
Camille Claudel, The Mature Age (Plaster and bronze, 1898-1913)

The struggle of solitude

When Claudel’s father passed away in 1913, she lost her main source of support. She had already spent several years cut off from the world and rarely in touch with her family. The last straw had been her separation from Rodin in the spring of 1894. Living alone in her studio, she gradually withdrew from society, suffering from repeated breakdowns. Her rage occasionally even led her to destroy her own artworks.

Although no longer with Rodin, he continued to haunt her thoughts, even decades later. Indeed, Claudel seems to have become convinced her ex-lover wanted to kill and poison her, and to steal her work.

Auguste Rodin, Tête  de Camille Claudel coiffée d'un bonnet (terre cuite, vers 1884) / © Christian Baraja
Auguste Rodin, Tête de Camille Claudel coiffée d'un bonnet (terre cuite, vers 1884) / © Christian Baraja
Camille Claudel, Buste d'Auguste Rodin (bronze, 1892)
Camille Claudel, Buste d'Auguste Rodin (bronze, 1892)

Claudel’s health deteriorated and in 1913 her mother decided to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital. Camille had no desire to sculpt in such conditions, kept against her will in a hospice where she would finally lose her mind. Her mother, who was strict and hard-headed, forbade her from receiving visitors. Letters sent to Claudel were simply destroyed. The only exception was her younger brother Paul, who visited her on several occasions.

Rodin, who was deeply troubled and moved by his former protégée’s predicament, sent her money and exhibited her work but did not go so far as to help her be released. Indeed, he was unable to, as only the Claudel family had the powers to do so.

 Camille Claudel, The Abandonment
Camille Claudel, The Abandonment (Bronze, 1905)

Years passed and Camille’s health deteriorated further, with the lack of available food rations caused by the Second World War inevitably leading the artist to become dangerously frail, before eventually passing away in the autumn of 1943. Her solitude continued even after her death, as her body remained unclaimed by her family and she was buried in a mass grave. Recognition came only later, despite her hard-fought battle to free herself from the chains that linked her to Rodin, who she claimed repeatedly stole her fame, ruining her quest to become an artist in her own right.

Similar artists at KAZoART—Myriam Schreiber

The sculpture Etre La by Myriam Schreiber evokes the same passion found in sculptures depicting Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.

Myriam Schreiber, Être là
Myriam Schreiber, Être Là (Bronze, 2012)