“I would prefer to have a more appealing job. If I could still change careers, I would prefer it. This unfortunate art is made for long beards and ugly faces rather than for a relatively well-endowed woman.”
~ Camille Claudel
Considered one of the greatest sculptors, Claudel’s work is often eclipsed by her relationship with August Rodin.
Born to to a family of gentry farmers, Claudel was clear at a very early age of her artistic path before her. At fifteen she created accomplished sculptures. At nineteen, she became a student and muse of Rodin. They soon began a tumultuous relationship that was to last nearly fifteen years. He was twenty-four years her senior. Some critics say that without his guidance and patronage, she would have never been known. Others say she was the one who helped build his reputation working on numerous of his works. It was not easy to be a female artist then. Medical journals and doctors argued that women’s brains were inferior, their temperament not suited to such taxing artistic pursuits.
Her father encouraged her. Her mother disapproved. After her break-up with Rodin, she was the most productive. She lived in her studio and began to work obsessively.And then she became reclusive. Neighbors warned their children not to speak to her. She took in stray cats. Her studio was filthy, strewn with broken sculptures she would shatter after creation. She closed her shutters tight to block out the light.
Three days after the her father’s death on March 2, 1913 her younger brother Paul, a well-known poet, in collaboration with their mother, arranged for his sister to be taken away. Two orderlies broke into her apartment and dragged her to an asylum. There she lived for thirty years. Despite doctors’ recommendations that she could return home, her family never allowed this.
In 1935 she wrote a letter to her brother: “I live in a world that is so curious, so strange … Of the dream which was my life, this is the nightmare.” She died on October 19, 1943. No one from her family claimed her body. She was buried in a communal grave.