claudel: before the poison

She was seventeen and wanted to be a sculptor. He was forty-one. He was Auguste Rodin on the verge of  taking to the heights of the French art world, being compared to genius of Michelangelo. He had overcome the major handicap of being poor and unknown in a metier dominated by the rich and fashionable. He had spent most of his youth in one of the dingier working quarters of Paris,and his new vision of sculpture was spreading as the next great thing: a sculptural expressionism in which Rodin wished to use the public sphere to work out what Otto Rankin would term, ” immemorial struggle against the materialized feelings of guilt” associated with the “primal crime” in which the son’s rise against the fathers and kill them. He was heralded, but copying the humor of Michelangelo and the aesthetic of Claudel was a bizarre construction to conceal his own unconscious anxieties.

"This work is usually seen as an allegory of Man leaving Youth and being carried off by Death. The official guide to sculpture in the Musée d'Orsay, describes this work: ". . .in Maturity the man dragged along on the wave of life by the old woman is bending down. The young imploring figure, her hands now empty, has lost. Paul Claudel described her thus: 'This composition, whose unity springs from a rupture...this naked young woman, is my sister! My sister Camille. Imploring, humiliated on her knees, this haughty, proud woman...and do you know what is being torn from her, at that moment, before your very eyes--her soul!'" (80) Thus this work can be read as autobiographical, sometimes more specifically as representing a triangle in which the man is Rodin, the imploring young woman, Camille, and the old woman, Rose Beuret, or more generally as a symbolic representation of the painful break between Claudel and Rodin." Read More:

For a brief, happy period, the two artists had an intense love affair fired by a common passion for sculpture. Claudel was present and involved during the creation of Rodin’s masterpieces in the 1880s and early 1890s. In the progression of her training in Rodin’s studio, she soon sculpted works of remarkable character and expressive power. But he was the genius, and she struggled and withdrew, spending the last thirty years of her life institutionalized.Claudel had a form of vision which was particular, but it may have been Rodin who was mad. An exploration of Claudel’s alleged insanity can be separated by the patriarchal control: Pro Dreyfus or anti-Dreyfus the epoch may have been. But they were all anti-women. Even the “progressives”  like Zola and Mallarme knew when to circle the wagons.

For this reason,Claudel serves to evoke the inner life of other marginalized yet talented women. Her madness after the age of forty, remains obscure, but it sure kept the fine art world free of women and set the ground rules.Claudel justifiably regarded her own
confinement as an example of female exploitation and annihilation of the artist.  A great swatch of correspondence she penned to her brother asking for her release,  has only underlined  a plausible thesis of an unfair and criminal internment, almost as an example where women should know their place.

"but tough as she was, something in her crumpled when she decided to leave Rodin in 1898. She became increasingly unable to cope with life and withdrew into herself. In 1913, her mother and brother saw fit to commit her to a mental asylum. There she remained, a lost soul, until her death 30 years later. The story of her prolonged imprisonment through the connivance of family and state bureaucracies remains shocking, not only because she was so talented, but also because many other mentally troubled people were in the same position. " Read More:

Apparently, it was Claudel’s decision to finish their  about fifteen-year relationship, but it apparently made her quite anxious to be adrift, as if being in an abusive relationship was almost comforting in its certitude. Add to this,  her somewhat fragile  stability, and eroded self-esteem was stretched by some normal  artistic dry spells, poverty, poor working conditions; all in juxtaposition with Rodin’s guided missile to the top and her probably correct assertion that he had swiped some essential work, key elements in her pieces to which he could putter around with, to the accompaniment and fanfare of the endless parade of nude models traipsing in his studio. The only finger he lifted for a woman was out of some bitch’s twat.

Deep in despair and abandon,  and soon before she was whisked into an institution,   she destroyed some of her work and lived
like a recluse, an itinerant squatter,  in her workshop.Whether Claudel’s fixations were temperamental responses to this disposing of her as used commodity fetish and invalid artist or whether there were more profound symptoms of paranoia is a point of conjecture, but the nature of the individual lends itself to the hypothesis that she was intentionally crushed.

"One need only compare the vulgarity of Rodin's early sketches for Paolo and Francesca da Ramini, 1880 (to which we trace The Kiss) and the forced exhibitionism of Crouching Woman, 1881, from before Rodin met Claudel, with the sweetness of the next fifteen years' work. So perhaps Camille Claudel was really not deranged when she claimed that Rodin had gotten the credit for her ideas. And what should we think of Rodin's Galatée and The Brother and The Sister compared with Camille's Young Girl with a Sheaf? Apparently in 1890, two artists claimed the exact same work (certainly from the same model's sitting, but closer still!). Look at the knees, the hand, and the attitude of the head. Is this really Auguste Rodin's view of a young woman? Did Camille parade The Thought around Europe claiming it was her self-portrait? Rodin had done just that with Camille's bust of him. " Read More:

There is a theory that Claudel’s union with her master was simultaneously  transforming yet also  annihilating and destructive. Against this monster, she finds herself playing with the peculiar theme of rebelling against the sexual dominance of the father who is in some incestuous relationship. At heart, Rodin had a peasant background, was not well read, and was essentially a conservative reactionary, a craftsman, who latched onto a few of her ideas.  And he gets the star role:  Rodin is the father of Claudel’s mastery, to which she,  Pygmalion-student would be Oedipically indebted, though she is the inspiration and aura of his art. Like in Rodin’s massive sculptures, she evaporates, is devoured inside these figures, as if swallowed by Rodin’s enormity;she is buried in his tombstones  and eventually manages to  crawl away from the funerary monument as a ghost, which signifies  the insidious effect of what can be ascertained as a relationship with a cannibal.

"I even see in Rodin's Burghers of Calais a different approach to design, consistent with the modern approach of Claudel, and inconsistent with Rodin's inclination for orgiastic human splatter best exemplified in the grotesque mess that is Gates of Hell. Rodin was a surgeon. His talent was for permuting the pieces in Age of Bronze. Claudel was exactly The Little Siren and Flute Player of her penultimate work. Am I a revisionist who is too impressed with Adjani's weeping blue eyes and César's portrait of a nineteen-year old woman so full of herself she can barely sit for a photo? I don't think so. In fact, I finally understand why so much of the Stanford, Philadelphia, and Paris Rodin galleries bores me, even repulses me, except for that period of Claudel. And now I see that my favorite private works look right with Camille's flowing Waltz, the perfect bridge to Art Nouveau. I had loved Rodin and want to admire him, but the more I think about it, the more I think I really loved Camille. " Read More: image:

However, it was not until the early 1890s that Camille demonstrated the full measure of her art, at a time when her relationship with Rodin was beginning to deteriorate, as is demonstrated by the cruelty of the barbed drawings,which Camille devoted to Rose and Rodin as a couple : the Système Cellulaire, Réveil, Collage… Camille realised that she would never be Rodin’s wife and would never succeed in ousting Rose Beuret ; the final break between the lovers came in 1898, and the wound it caused was commensurate with the ardour of the love that the two artists had experienced for more than ten years. Camille never recovered from the separation, even if her art then started to break free of the influence of her famous master, with La Valse in 1892, taken up again in 1895 and produced in a large edition by Eugène Blot after 1905 ; …

…Clotho in 1895 ; the various versions of the La Petite Châtelaine ; started in 1893, or L’Age Mûr in I895, taken up again in 1898 and 1907 : a cruel statement of abandonment, Rodin leaving Camille, on her knees begging him to stay, to go back to Rose. The most profoundly original examples of Camille’s work were produced at the turn of the century ; with works such as Les Causeuses, 1897 , and La Vague, 1900, she embarked on a new style derived from the japonisme fashionable at the time and deeply anchored in Art Nouveau. Using onyx, a rare material, she based her compositions on an elegant play of curves ; thus Camille was a sculptor in tune with the art of her day. Unfortunately the first signs of paranoia were starting to become evident. From 1906 the madness became more pronounced and destructive. Read More: a

---Reine-Marie Paris, grand-daughter of the poet Paul Claudel – Camille’s brother – defied half a century of family taboos after she was handed a box of old papers that had belonged to Paul. She discovered letters from Camille to Paul, who though he had been extremely close to her, had allowed her to be sent to an asylum and languish there , even ignoring doctors’ suggestions that she return to her family. “Camille seemed cursed by the family, condemned to total oblivion by a pitiless censorship,” Reine-Marie explained to Le Figaro journalist Julia Baudin, in a special issue of the magazine celebrating the artist.--- Read More: image:

“I certainly do not say any of this in concert with the activists who deny individual responsibility, who think Claudel was Rodin’s victim. She was an artist and a lover who knew the score and made her choices. Rodin appears to have acted at least as well as could be expected given the situation he created, though there are some damning questions that could be asked. Rodin is the master sculptor, undeniably, and it is from his hand that the beautiful portraits of Camille flowed. Without Camille, he deserves all the praise and study of, for example, a Bernini….

…Rejected, fallen, no longer the siren of her youth, genuinely artistic in mood, angry at an inarguably paternal and name-driven art world, misplayed under the French conception of mistress, cheated and perceptive enough to see it, probably hormonally unbalanced from the start — but probably not deserving the asylum — and almost certainly maternally disfigured, Camille struggles. She struggles for a new style, to innovate away in fact from her own natural style, which Rodin had (very understandably) adopted. I want to say coopted. She deserves more than the Mary Cassatt, the Alma Schindler, the Gala Gala. ” Read More:

---The turn of the century saw her experimenting with a new approach – “sketching from life”, as she called it. Brilliantly characterised individuals are grouped together, chatting or gossiping, their bodies stretching together as they hang on each others’ words. They are posed before a rising backdrop in the plaster sketches, softly modelled bodies full of movement. The idea is carried further in The Wave series. --- Read More: image:

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