Camille Claudel – Chienne rongeant son os (Dog Gnawing
Dimensions: 10.6 x 6.2 x 4.3″ sculpture / 5.5 x 10.25″ base
Year: plaster 1893, posthumous casting 2002
Medium: cast bronze on bronze base
Camille Claudel’s skill was recognized early in her life, so much so that the entire family moved to Paris in 1882, for Camille to study sculpture at L’Académie Colarossi, since women were not admitted to L’Académie des Beaux-Arts. Claudel was one of the few female artists there, yet she was the most accomplished of them all. When Auguste Rodin came on board as instructor, he was immediately smitten with her. He asked her to sculpt the hands and feet (the most difficult parts) of some of his most famous sculptural ensembles such as Burghers of Calais, which he then signed as his own. Many of Claudel’s works claimed by Rodin—as well as those rightly attributed to her—are on display in the Rodin Museum in Paris today.
Rodin’s admiration of Claudel’s skill, independence, and brilliance drove him to pursue her relentlessly. He referred to her in his letters as “my fierce friend” or my “sovereign friend.” And as art dealer Paul Leroi (aka Paul Gauchez) wrote in 1886, “Mlle Claudel expresses a reserve which is inspired by an interest in her own future. M. Rodin has such a powerful personality, and his mastery is so superior, that it is wise not to let oneself be absorbed by such a naturally fascinating influence; in a word, the young artist has to be Mlle. Claudel alone, and not a reflection.”
Claudel became Rodin’s muse, inspiration, and obsession. He removed his sculptural composition “The Kiss” from his “Gates of Hell,” because he came to see it as a capricious rather than tortured representation of love. Rodin was so consumed by Claudel’s powerful artistic persona that he offered her a contract:
“From today’s date, October 12th, 1886, onwards I will have Mlle Camille Claudel as my sole student and I will protect her, and her alone, with all the means I have at my disposal, as will my friends, and more particularly my influential friends, who are also her friends. I will not accept any other students…although I suppose that it is not often that one meets with such naturally talented artists. I will do all that I can for her during exhibitions, for the positioning of her works and the newspapers…we will leave for Italy and will stay there for at least 6 months, living together in an indissoluble relationship after which Mlle Camille shall be my wife…I will have no other women; failing this, the conditions will be broken…Mlle Camille pledges to welcome me at her studio 4 times per month until May.”
Like Rodin, Camille knew she was the superior sculptor. Yet, because of the time in which they lived, it was the male artists like Rodin who received every commission from the French government. Camille repeatedly applied for the public commissions, and she received a government commission for her grandest work—“L’Âge mûr,” editions of which now reside in the Rodin Museum and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, as well as Musee Camille Claudel in Nogent sur Seine. “L’Âge mûr” is a tripartite sculptural group featuring a youthful naked woman beseiging a man to stay with her instead of being heralded away by an old woman, representing death. The autobiographical nature of the sculpture was undeniable, representing Camille as the youthful love, imploring Rodin to remain with her and leave his relationship with Rose Bueret, his long-term, older mistress. Claudel was convinced that the government commission was cancelled due to the fact that Rodin was on the selection committee and was embarrassed by her boldness in revealing the truth of their relationship. Claudel had become pregnant with Rodin’s child, and when she realized she faced he decision of having an abortion and continuing her career, or having the child, she chose her career.
Eugene Blot, Camille’s faithful Parisian art dealer and friend, cast not only Claudel’s “L’Âge mûr” but also the separate autobiographical portion of the sculpture depicting the young, naked Camille begging Rodin to remain with her. This work—the grand scale “L’Implorante” we so proudly display—became one of Claudel’s most iconic works. Blot cast only five of the grand scale versions of the sculpture such as ours, with the other four housed in museums and prestigious private collections. Blot cast fifty-two of a smaller version of “L’Implorante,” one of which resides in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Blot wrote a letter to Camille in 1932 after Rodin’s death that Camille never received. It said “In reality (Rodin) loved only you, Camille…All the rest…was the outlet for an excessive nature…You suffered too much in his hands. But I take nothing back from what I have just written. Time will heal everything.”
From that point forward, after Camille chose her own desires over having a child, her career in 19th century French art was over (but only for a while). She retreated into her studio, working incessantly on her sculptures to the point she “thought she might forget the spoken word.” She banished Rodin from her life, and pursued her artwork in isolation. Like other independent, outspoken, determined, women of her time who refused to be subservient to men, Claudel became a social outcast. Due to the abortion, her family virtually disowned her, placing her in a mental institution near Avignon. For the final 35 years of her life, Camille Claudel never created another sculpture. She died alone in the mental institution in 1943 and was buried in a mass grave. For the entirety of her stay at the asylum, she had only two visitors—her brother Paul Claudel, and her fellow sculptress at L’Académie Colarossi, Jesse Lipscomb.
Time is—in some ways—healing things. In 1952, the Rodin Museum created a section of the museum exclusively to present Camille Claudel’s sculpture. Top museums throughout the world have shown and collected her works, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musee d’Orsay, Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Pinacoteca do Estado in Brazil, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico, and Palazzo Magnani in Italy, to name a few. Two films, featuring Isabelle Adjani, Gerard Depardieu, and Juliet Binoche, as well as musicals, plays, and numerous books, have been written about Claudel’s life and work.
-Tonya Turner Carroll, Santa Fe, 2021
“My sister Camille had an extraordinary beauty, as well as an exceptional energy, imagination and will.”
“This young naked girl is my sister! My sister Camille. Imploring…on her knees and naked!…And do you know what is being ripped from her, right now, right before your eyes, is her soul? It is at the same time the soul, genius, reason, beauty, life, the name itself.”