What genius is lost to lovers like sculptors Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin?

Claudel went mad after Rodin would not leave his wife and Rodin became one of the most celebrated artists in history. Claudel destroys much of her work in a fit of rage and Rodin’s art lives on in museums around the world.

The story of Claudel and Rodin begs so many questions about the role of love and the creative process.  From their first meeting, Rodin clearly loved his muse, Camille.  He realized he could never leave his wife, Rose, but sent letters to Claudel after they first met.  In them, he shared his flirtatious passion for her talent as a sculptress and his sympathy for her financial difficulties.

In many ways, the intense affair that lasted for ten years (1882-1892) until Claudel reclaimed her independence, positively influenced both artists.  Claudel benefited from Rodin’s tutelage and was the rare woman allowed to exhibit at the Salon de Artists.  Rodin used his influence when women were not accepted and all facets of the arts in Paris in the 19th century were dominated by men.

What does stand out, however, is that Claudel’s reputation was the only one destroyed.  Rodin’s career was unscathed and prospered greatly from Claudel’s talent and creativity.  In fact, there are strange similarities in their work when you compare the two sculptures below.

The first is Claudel’s Young Girl With the Sheaf (1887) and the second, Rodin’s Galatea (1889).

What also stands out when considering how Claudel’s work was interpreted is the emotional interpretation of it.

Critics viewed her work as an emotional response to her relationship with Rodin and without valuing it on its own merit.

For example, the Bust of Rodin won critical acclaim by the Salon in 1889 as a sign Claudel was more accepting of Rodin.  And yet, Claudel was angry and Rodin was tired of Claudel’s outbursts over his refusal to leave his wife, Rose.  Claudel’s bust of Rodin followed her breakup and her sculpture of Rodin signaled an evolution – Claudel was starting to interpret and question her subject-matter.

Despite this progress, Rodin’s effect on Claudel also tore her apart.  The emotional carnage that destroyed their relationship was also killing Claudel, whose emotions and rage consumed her.  Even though it was Claudel who broke off the affair and started to play with new colors and textures edging closer to an art nouveau style, it was also Claudel who started to slide into seclusion.

As her creative genius reached its peak, she created some of her most beautiful work including The Wave (1897) and The Waltz (1889-90).  But the split with Rodin made Claudel feel like Rodin still controlled her career with his influence.  Critics said her work was not her own original design and dismissed it, saying it was the result of Rodin’s creativity.

Seeing Claudel’s work in a fresh light, it’s clear her interests had changed and her work was more introspective.  But while her new vision was manifest in titles like Fireside Dream and Deep, Claudel was also slipping into seclusion.

Despite the support of a few wealthy patrons who continued to subsidize her rent, Claudel’s family committed her to a mental asylum in 1913.  She had matured as an artist but, angry and depressed, Claudel stopped creating.  Sadly, she died in a psychiatric hospital thirty years later in 1943.

I wonder that Claudel’s identity was so wrapped in Rodin’s approval and society’s acceptance of it that she couldn’t go on.  Her story is immortalized in a novel, Rodin’s Lover, and a number of movies including Camille Claudel (1988), starring Isabelle Adjani and the more recent version, Camille Claudel 1915. In this latter movie with Juliette Binoche, the story follows Camille’s life in the asylum.

WomanScape has also curated two beautiful bronze statues reminiscent of Claudel’s work, including an abstract art piece called Couple’s Embrace and a museum quality replica of Claudel’s The Waltz. Both sculptures convey the beauty of love and creative artistry in two very affordable artworks.

Claudel leaves behind a legacy of brilliant work and a history fighting for the acceptance of women artists.  Glancing over at my beautiful bronze Waltz statue, I admire the stature it holds in my heart.

Rose McInerney

Rose McInerney

Rose combines her love of all things artfully-designed to connect women to a shared community of learning and a richer, more fulfilled self. As a passionate storyteller, published writer, and international traveler, Rose believes women can build a better world through powerful storytelling.

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