Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin: The Tragedy of Muses

Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin: The Tragedy of Muses
To be the muse of a famous artist has proved often to be a double-edged sword. To be talented in your own right and female, that sword could possess the unkindest of blades. In Beth Gersh-Nesic’s excellent recent article on Dora Maar’s retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, she details Picasso’s often negative, influence on Maar’s own progression as a photographer and an artist. As his mistress and muse, Maar suffered doubly– her work subsumed by Picasso’s reputation and later being replaced in Picasso’s life by the 21 year old Françoise Gilot. Maar subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. Camille Claudel could never have hoped to aspire to the fame of Rodin and her years of being Rodin’s muse and mistress did not end when a younger model came along, but instead by Rodin’s refusal to end his long relationship with Rose Beuret, who was 20 years her senior. Claudel’s breakdown, unlike that of Maar, was not a transitory phase in her life but a cruel end to the career of a truly talented sculptor. In 1913, everything conspired against Claudel: her gender, her breakdown and her family. It had all started with such hope. Camille Claudel was born in 1864 in Fere-en-Tardenois in the Aisne department. Her family were educated and prosperous; her father was a Register of Mortgages for the government, and her mother, the daughter of a doctor and the mayor of Villeneuve-sur-fere. Camille was one of two other siblings, Louise and Paul, but it was Camille who earned the ire of her mother who, if she had found her willful and unruly as a child, was totally and irrevocably opposed to her choice of career as an adult. (Her mother, Louise-Athenaise Cécile Cerveaux, had been left motherless at the age of four and it has been suggested that she lacked a maternal instinct. This was irrefutably true of her relationship with Camille, resentful not only that she was not a boy but that she was strong willed and often difficult.) Camille had discovered modeling with clay from a very early age and the fascination with the medium had never left her. When Claudel was 12 years old her father was transferred to Nogent-sur-Seine, a mere 60 miles from Paris but more importantly the home of two respected sculptors, Paul Dubois and Alfred Boucher. Camille’s father, who was much more sympathetic to her obsession with sculpture but unsure of her talent, approached Boucher for an opinion of her work. Camille was then 15 years old and Boucher was astounded by her abilities and encouraged her father to not only take her talents seriously but also to help her pursue them. Women were still not allowed to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but Boucher introduced Camille to Paul Dubois who had been his own professor at the Beaux-Arts. Also recognizing Camille’s talents, he recommended she attend the Académie Colarossi. The Académie Colarossi had been founded by the Italian sculptor, Filippo Colarossi, and had moved in 1870 to the rue de la Grande-Chaumière in the 6th arrondissement. It was a natural progression for female students unable to study at the Beaux-Arts, and where they were allowed to draw nude, male models. Claudel’s father, who had once again been transferred to a different location, this time even further from Paris, agreed to rent an apartment on the Boulevard Montparnasse for the family, the children’s education, and, most importantly, to facilitate in Camille’s artistic dreams. Aged 17 in 1881, Camille entered the Académie Colarossi and immediately made friends with a group of young women sculptors who shared a studio in Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. (Three of the women were English: Jessie Liscombe, Emily Fawcett and Amy Singer. Camille subsequently traveled to England staying in Frome with Amy Singer and Jessie Liscombe in Peterborough. Jessie Liscombe visited her in the asylum 48 years later and protested against her incarceration, insisting she was not insane.) Alfred Boucher, who had been teaching the sculptors for three years, was offered a prodigious position in Florence and suggested that Rodin take over from him in their instruction. Camille was already taking her sculpting with a serious intensity before she even met Rodin, and had produced a plaster bust of the goddess Diana and a bronze bust of her brother Paul as well as a starkly naturalistic bust of the family’s housekeeper Hélène, her wrinkles and lines portrayed without sentimentality and entitled, La Vieille Hélène. Camille was not yet 19 when she met Rodin who, at 43, was 24 years older. Rodin was by then a recognized, sought-after sculptor, his many commercial, ornamental figures adorning public and private buildings, especially in Belgium, the proceeds from which had allowed him to travel to Italy where the sculptures there impassioned him enough to return to Paris in 1877 to fulfill his own ambitions, his own grand ideas not influenced by having to please private clients. His first major sculpture, which later became known as The Age of Bronze, so life-like in its depiction of a young man emerging from depression and misery into enlightenment, was pilloried by fellow artists and critics who accused him of taking the plaster cast directly from a living model. Rodin was appalled at these accusations and fortunately the French government must have agreed and not only paid for the first bronze cast but also for the bronze cast of his sculpture of…
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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.