Camille Claudel: a passionate and vibrant artist

Reading a post over at SU with its references to late 19th century sculpture and Rodin made me think of Camille Claudel.

Victorian women were emotionally, socially, physically and politically constricted. If they painted it was meant to be a past time, dainty landscapes certainly not passionate bold experimental art. Camille Claudel (1864-1943) defied the Victorian woman role model she was very transgressive for her time.

Over time her work has been forgotten and her status was reduced to mistress/muse of Rodin (the excellent film Camille Claudel (1988) rehabilitated her work). Her neo-classical influenced style sculptures were eclipsed by Rodin and her work languished in the shadows at the Musee Rodin. And it is only recently her influence has been recognised in the work of Rodin.


Compare Rodin’s The Kiss (1887) to Claudel’s understated Sakuntala (1888) both marble (though Claudel’s marble version of Sakuntala came about in 1905). The Kiss is a piece of erotic and bold scuplture (you used to be able to view it at the Tate Britain though now moved to the Tate in Liverpool).

Claudel’s projects passion yet tenderness. The poignancy of Prince Dushyanta collapsing to his knees when he is confronted with his true love Sakuntala. The same with L’Age Mur (The Age of Maturity) produced in 1894 that represents her personal and emotional turmoil she experienced with Rodin and his commitment to his wife, Rose Beuret.

It tragic, intimate and soulful piece which encapsulates her relationship with Rodin. Her examples of her fine beautifully carved work include The Implorer (1899), The Waltz (1891-1893) and The Flute Player (1904).


Her work deserves equal praise as it is modern, the narrative flows, passionate, bold, stark and has veracity. Unfortunately, because Claudel wouldn’t follow the respectable lifestyle of a Victorian her brother, writer Paul Claudel, got her sectioned under the French mental health act in 1913, she was kept in the asylum until her death.

Even doctors said she wasn’t “mad” but her family refused to acknowledge that diagnosis and her brother forbade his mother and sister to visit her.

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11 thoughts on “Camille Claudel: a passionate and vibrant artist

  1. It’s really disgusting what was done to her (when she rightly said people were persecuting her -because being committed is a bit ‘persecutory’-they said -aha, she’s paranoid!) and from her work (what survives) it does rather look like the men in her life were resentful of her talent (I find L’Age Mur quite heartbreaking). I’ve not seen the film but it is now added to my dvd rental queue!

  2. I agree with your comments. Rick.

    Paul Claudel did well in his job (I think he worked for the french civil service) and the reason he got that job …. his sister’s connection with Rodin!

    And the argument was for my years that she copied Rodin when indeed it was the other way round. A man to be influenced by a much younger woman? Never…!!

    The film is excellent and if you get the chance you should see it. I saw it in 1989. I kinda empathised with Claudel at the time as I had only got out of the psychiatric system not that long.

  3. Er, just one thing, you refer to her as “defying the Victorian model”, but looking at her Wikipedia entry it looks like she was born and spent all of her life in France, where Queen Victoria certainly wasn’t ruling. In fact, her lifespan coincides more or less with the Third Republic, and she would have been a contemporary of Colette, Emile Zola and Claude Debussy, Andre Breton and the surrealists, among others.

    The British Empire was pretty large at the time, but I don’t think France was part of it. ;) And, although there are probably cultural similarities between France and Britain at the time, I still don’t think it’s fair to refer to all European women as ‘Victorian’.

  4. yeah, you are right, she was a contemporary of the names you mention and many others. But you have to look at the way women were treated at the time and the way Claudel was treated. There are similarities with the way she was treated and other women. I take your point though, but I think there is a specific way women were treated and maybe I wrongly used “Victorian”…

  5. Well, considering Victorian refers to Queen Victoria, it’s definitely wrongly used to refer to a French woman.

    And anyway, putting women away like that isn’t specific to the Victorian era either (but you knew that).

    But just saying, there is no way you can refer to French women of the time as ‘Victorian’, it’s like saying, oh well, the French cultural context of the time was totally unimportant, so let’s just apply ours instead. You know, especially given all that obscure French business in 1871, with the Paris commune and that. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen and call them “Victorian” instead.

    I mean, you might as well say France is going through the second Elizabethan era right now. Just because there are probably similarities between the oppression of women in both countries wouldn’t make that right.

  6. Where did you obtain the flute player photo? I’d like to use it for cover art on my book of poems. Whom did you contact for permission? I haven’t been able to find a source; I believe it’s in a private collection. How did you go about it?

    Thanks for any help you can give.

  7. Regardess of the era or country, he work is incredible and unfortunately NOT as well know as she deserved. The Waltz is beauty beyond the scope of words. Thanks for the tip of the movie…I too will be watching it. Finding her, and her works is somewhat like the opening of a rose. There is so much to learn from studying people like her. An inspiration much like Frederick Hart…….and for those who have not had a chance to see one of his exhibits: something else to add to the “to do” list. Bob

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