Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Camille Claudel - Artist, Sculptor, and Lover of Auguste Rodin

 "A revolt against nature: a woman genius"...Octave Mirbeau

Camille Claudel 
8 December 1864 – 19 October 1943


Camille Claudel was a French sculptor and artist. Her fascination for clay, stone, and dirt, began when she was a young child, and as she came of age, despite the protestations of her mother, her father supported her to study art. Around 1884, she started working with Auguste Rodin and before long became his lover and confidante. Obviously her family was outraged by the affair. 


Camille Cladel sculpting in her workshop

After 1905, she was afflicted by a mental illness. In the throes of her paranoia, she destroyed much of her work. Today, only 90 pieces exist. She disappeared for long periods of time, which alarmed her family. She came to believe that Rodin had stolen her all her ideas and he would soon kill her. As a result, she hid from the world, locking herself in her workshop to work. In 1913, her brother convinced her to voluntarily enter a psychiatric hospital where she had numerous outbursts. Despite her agitation, whenever engrossed in creating art, she was always lucid and calm. On numerous occasions, doctors did their best to convince Camille's family that she could be released back to the world, but her mother refused and kept her locked up with no mail other than her brother. there with no . This outraged the public for they believed the family had committed and locked away a sculptor of genius talent. 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. 


After a long terminal illness Camille Claudel died on 19 October 1943. No one came to her funeral and she was buried in a communal grave in the garden of the asylum where she had been for 30 years. 


Bust of Camille Claudel 
Artist - Rodin

She was a fireball and a prodigy. He was a genius. Their art was revolutionary. Sparks flew between and around them...She burnt out much too soon.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, seventeen year-old Camille Claudel dreams of becoming a famous sculptor, but becoming a female artist means pushing the boundaries of convention a little too far.

In Paris Camille will be able to attend art school and possibly have an atelier of her own. Thus, the Claudel family relocates in search of better opportunities for their two most talented offsprings.

Camille soon overshadows her classmates in art school, and her private tutor, a renowned sculptor, sees greatness in her. When he wins a prestigious prize and must leave Paris for Rome, he convinces his friend Auguste Rodin to nurture Camille's talent. But what's with this fiery young beauty who manages to make Rodin feel so uncertain yet capable of tackling anything?!

Rodin's Lover reverberates with intensity. I could picture the unfolding story in my mind as if I were watching a movie.
I have read passages of a book on Mendeleev's quest to organize the chemical elements into a reasonable system. The book is after my own heart, but I have never been able to finish it because I become overwhelmed by emotion to the point that I feel I am on fire, blood pumping in my ears, and bells tolling in my chest. That was the effect Rodin's Lover had on me. I felt uncomfortably aglow, feeling intensely the chemistry between Rodin and Camille--not only the measure of their desire for each other but their intellectual compatibility as well.

Heather Webb has managed quite a feat: to penetrate the mind of a genius, shed light on the chaos that sometimes reigns inside, and expose his creative process. Rodin has come alive in all his glory and complexity: his desires, his dreams, his energy and all-consuming passion...And so has Camille. Webb has zeroed in on how it must have felt as a talented woman to work in a field dominated by men and be overshadowed by them. It is an issue as timely in this day and age as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is said that the line that divides genius and madness is a fine one; Webb has masterfully made it blurry. In Camille there is virtually no difference between a driven individual and an obsessed one.

"Camille dropped to her knees in the mud. Her skirts absorbed last night's rain and the scent of sodden earth. She plunged a trowel, stolen from her neighbor's garden, into the red clay and dug furiously, stopping only to slop hunks of earth into a wooden trough. She needed one more load to mod the portrait of Eugenie. The maid would sit for her again, regardless of her protestations." Opening Sentences. 

Rodin's Lover is a biographical novel about the life of French scuptor and artist, Camille Claudel. Despite her mother's interference, Camille's father arranged for her to study art in a time when women were banned from doing so. She came under the guidance of Auguste Rodin, and they soon fell in love and began an affair. After an unwanted abortion, Camille became paranoid and possibly schizophrenic, prone to outbursts. She voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric hospital, but when doctors tried to release her, her mother intervened and insisted she be kept there. 

Set in France during the 1900's, Rodin's Lover is a comprehensive telling of a young woman who defied social norms and became a beloved sculptor. Like many biographical novels, the pace slows sometimes, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading. The author portrayed Camille in a most sympathetic way, and I found her fascinating for her courage, dedication to her work, and willingness to learn. The author also did a thorough job of describing art techniques and the various historical characters in a very real, believable way. A lovely, but sad story. 

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4 comments:

La Petite Gallery said...

What a Mother. This is so sad. She must
have been bi-polar and there were no drugs for her then. yvonne

La Petite Gallery said...

Hope you got the comment. Yvonne

La Petite Gallery said...

This is so sad, what a Mother.
30 years in there is too much. yvonne

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

So very true. Funny how mental illness has still far to go. I can't imagine how horrible the treatments were back then.