Camille Claudel (8 December 1864 – 19 October 1943) was a French sculptor and graphic artist. She was the elder sister of the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel. Fascinated with stone and soil as a child, as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi with sculptor Alfred Boucher. (At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts barred women from enrolling to study.)
In 1882, Claudel rented a workshop with other young women, mostly English, including Jessie Lipscomb. Alfred Boucher became her mentor and provided inspiration and encouragement to the next generation of sculptors such as Laure Coutan and Claudel. The latter was depicted in "Camille Claudel lisant" by Boucher and later she herself sculpted a bust of her mentor.
Before moving to Florence and after having taught Claudel and others for over three years, Boucher asked Auguste Rodin to take over the instruction of his pupils. This is how Rodin and Claudel met and their tumultuous and passionate relationship started.
Around 1884, she started working in Rodin's (above) workshop. Claudel became a source of inspiration, his model, his confidante and lover. She never lived with Rodin, who was reluctant to end his 20-year relationship with Rose Beuret.(below)
Rose Beuret in straw hat
Knowledge of the affair agitated her family, especially her mother, who never completely agreed with Claudel's involvement in the arts. As a consequence, she left the family house. In 1892, after an unwanted abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin, although they saw each other regularly until 1898.
It would be a mistake to assume that Claudel's reputation has survived simply because of her once notorious association with Rodin. The novelist and art critic Octave Mirbeau described her as "A revolt against nature: a woman genius".
Her early work is similar to Rodin's in spirit, but shows an imagination and lyricism quite her own, particularly in the famous Bronze Waltz (1893). The Mature Age (1900) whilst interpreted by her brother as a powerful allegory of her break with Rodin, with one figure The Implorer that was produced as an edition of its own, has also been interpreted in a less purely autobiographical mode as an even more powerful representation of change and purpose in the human condition.
Composer Claude Debussy has also been romantically linked to Claudel, but this was later proven as being false. Nevertheless, Debussy kept a copy of Claudel's La Valse on his mantel.
After 1905 Claudel appeared to be mentally ill. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time, and exhibited signs of paranoia and was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. She accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her. After the wedding of her brother (who had supported her until then) in 1906 and his return to China, she lived secluded in her workshop.
Her father, who approved of her career choice, tried to help her and supported her financially. When he died on 2 March 1913, Claudel was not informed of his death. On 10 March 1913 at the initiative of her brother, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne.
The form read that she had been "voluntarily" committed, although her admission was signed by a doctor and her brother. There are records to show that while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. Doctors tried to convince the family that she need not be in the institution, but still they kept her there.
In 1914, to be safe from advancing German troops, the patients at Ville-Évrard were at first relocated to Enghien. On September 7 1914 Camille was transferred with a number of other women, to the Montdevergues Asylum, at Montfavet, six kilometres from Avignon. Her certificate of admittance to Montdevergues was signed on September 22 1914; it reported that she suffered "from a systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination".
For a while, the press accused her family of committing a sculptor of genius. Her mother forbade her to receive mail from anyone other than her brother. The hospital staff regularly proposed to her family that Claudel be released, but her mother adamantly refused each time. On June 1 1920, physician Dr. Brunet sent a letter advising her mother to try to reintegrate her daughter into the family environment. Nothing came of this.
Paul Claudel (Above) visited her every few years, though he referred to her in the past tense. In 1929 Jessie Lipscomb visited her and insisted "it was not true" that Claudel was insane. Rodin's friend, Mathias Morhardt, insisted that Paul was a "simpleton" who had "shut away" his sister of genius.
Camille Claudel died on October 19 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at, and without a visit from her mother or sister (her mother died on 20 June 1929). Her body was interred in the cemetery of Monfavet. No one from the family attended the ceremony (only a few members from the hospital staff). Later her remains were buried in a communal grave (the body was never claimed by her family).
Other works by Camille Claudel