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The French Cycling Bicycle Gourmet - French Country Travel Life Film Maker and Author. Your non-snobby Gourmet Guide to food, wine travel and Lifestyle Adventure!

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Camille Claudel

They’re wild, weird, way-out, whacked out people. Delusional. Illusional. Depressive. Regressive. Suicidal. Paranoid. Excessive. Obessive. They drink, smoke funny cigarettes, take drugs, pop pills. Often they don’t sleep or eat for days. And when they do eat, it’s likely to be something so grotty the dog wouldn’t touch it.

They don’t give a rat’s ass if they look like something the cat dragged in. They’re as far away from “fashion consciousness” as Earth is from Venus. They’re the ultimate loners. Solitary. Reculsive. Secretive. Non-conformists with a captial “N.” Tilting at any and all windmills . Rebelling against/rejecting all the norms and standards of civilized society.  And what do they give society in return? – Incredible immortal art! Yes folks, I’m referring to those Humans we call – “Artists.” Tortured. Tormented. From Michaelangelo to Michael Jackson. And counting.

While, clearly, artists are a self-tortured lot everywhere, only in France (and here’s someone’s chance to prove me wrong) will you find an artist additionally tortured by her own family. Yes, I did say “her.” Camille Claudel. France’s, and argueably, the World’s greatest female sculptor.

Coming from a family with pockets sufficiently deep enough to afford a servant, Camille created her first sculpture of that servant when she was just seventeen.  It was clearly a World class work of art.

That’s the good news. The bad being that “art”, especially sculpture  in Camille’s era, was  exclusively a male club. However, undaunted by the obvious short-sighted (not to mention discriminatory) conventions of the time, Camille rented a studio along with her English pal Jessie Lipscomb.

Eventually, Camille came to the attention of the big Kahuna of 19th century  scuplture  – Pierre Auguste Rodin. Rodin, clearly impressed by, and recognizing Camille’s exceptional talent, invited her to become his apprentice. Soon after, she would become his mistress. Or to be accurate, one of his mistresses. Adding more seasoning  to this romantic stew was the fact that Rodin already had a long time relationship with another Woman, and was a Dad to boot.  Definitely a case of  “The course of true love never runs smooth” wot?

Naturally , this state of  (you’ll pardon the pun) “affairs” created decidedly troubling clouds in Camille’s sky. To the point that she (as they would say in that era) “took up” with another(we surmise less tortured) artistthe composer Claude Debussy.

Mais, alas,  Claude was soon to become tourtured, when after two years or so of whatever bliss they could manage, she blew him off for Rodin.

Despite the “romantic friction” between the two, Rodin and Camille evolved into a formidable creative unit. Obviously influencing each other. But, more to the point, actually working on each other’s creations. In fact, there are some Art Historians who will swear on a tower of  Carrarra Marble that many sculptures signed by Rodin, were totally the work of Camille Claudel.

However, it was inevitable that the creative bliss between the two would eventually be sabotaged and eventually torpedoed by their personal differences.

And so, in 1892, after an unwanted abortion , the split  came to pass. Camille retreated to a studio  of her own. There she created object ‘d’arte praised by all the critics. Clearly Camille Claudel was was not just a mediocre talent in the shadow of the great Rodin. But an exceptional artist in her own rite. Now, finally, accalimed as such.

In the years after 1905, those close to Camille thought they saw signs of  mental illness. Hardly surpising after her emotional merry-go-round with Rodin. N’est ce pas? During that time, she appeared paranoiac, and apparently accused Rodin of plotting to kill her.

This apparent mental imbalance  presuaded her brother Paul to commit her to a mental institution.

Over the course of several years, Camille was moved to two successive “hospitals.” At each one the Doctors advised her Mother that she was not exceptionally “ill” and suggested the best treatment would be to return to the Family home.

Her Mother, who unlike her Father  never supported her artistic career, refused. Not once. But in every instance.  Over a period of thirty years.  A viola.  Torture by family.

Camille Claudel died on the nineteenth of  October Nineteen Forty Three. Never having had even a visit from her Mother or her Sister. Brother Paul, tho’ he did visit ocassionally, always referred to his sister in the past tense.)

No one from her Family attended the funeral. And finally, Camille Claudel, the firey determined individualist, the exceptional natural talent, the greatest female sculptor the World has known (thus far) was interned in a  pauper’s grave.

No one said life was fair, did they?


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8 Responses to “Camille Claudel”

  1. helen velmas says:

    one of the most tragic stories of art i’ve ever read.

  2. cynthia questerly says:

    your post gives a new (and very ugly)) meaning to the phrase “Motherly Love.”

  3. Quentin Anderson says:

    Obviously it’s the Mother who should have been hospitalized! (without visits!)

  4. stafford whitelaw says:

    Having extensively studied the life of Camille Claudel, I must commend you for an excellent job of condensing the relevant events.
    Without losing any of the details that are so important to understanding a complex person/subject. Very impressive!

  5. cynthia vivlessner says:

    With a family like that (except for the Father) – who needs enemies?

  6. torbin bursten says:

    amazing story. depressing story. inspiring story. da bg strikes again!

  7. emily whitehouse says:

    Yet another tragic tale of a woman abused by a man.

  8. betty freeman says:

    to add to your commenter ms. whitehouse – and then, abused by a Woman!

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