Camille Claudel by Samantha Hoffmann


Camille Claudel was born in December 1864. She had a brother who was four years older than she was. When she was 17 her mother moved to Paris, taking the three children along: Camille and her two younger brothers. They moved to Paris so Camille could study at Academy Colarossi with the sculptor Alfred Boucher. The Academy of Arts of Paris, in those days, didnt accept women as students. Her father stayed in their native town so that he could work to support the family in the capital. Boucher asked Rodin whether he would teach and instruct his students for he was moving to Florence and could no longer be their tutor. That was how Camille met Rodin and when their tumultuous relationship started. She was 19 years old while Rodin was 43 and was already an accomplished artist.

Camille modelled several of Rodin works (The Thinker was one of them).

Her first exhibition, at the Salon of Société des Artistes Français caused great stir with her sculpture Vieille Hélène: more than the other branches of art, sculpture was a purely male domain.

She made her last sculpture in 1906 – in the same year she destroyed a great part of her works and accused Rodin of plagiarism and of having stolen her ideas. Around that time she was diagnosed as “schizophrenic” because of her temper and “delusions of persecution”. Her brother supported her until 1906 when he got married and went to China.

Camille’s father supported her artistic career (her mother didn’t) and also supported her financially – but he died on March 2nd, 1913 and Camille wasn’t told of his death. Eight days after her father passed away Camille’s brother, Paul Claudel, took the initiative to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital (Ville-Évrard). On the admission form it said that Camille had been admitted “voluntarily”, but a doctor and her brother Paul signed the form. There are records showing that, although Camille had her temper outbursts, she had a clear mind when she was working with her art. The doctors tried to convince her family that she didn’t need to be in that institution but the family still kept her there. The media accused her family of admitting a brilliant sculptress who was actually a genius. The mother kept her from receiving whatever letters that were not from Paul Claudel, her brother. The hospital regularly wanted to release her saying she wasn’t meant to be there, and proposed her family to let her go, but her mother vehemently refused all of those offers. On a letter dated June 1st. 1920, Dr. Brunet wrote to her mother advising her to reintegrate her daughter in her family environment. It was useless.

Camille was in hospital for 30 years. Her brother visited her 7 (seven) times. Camille sent him a number of letters begging him to take her home but such letters have all been ignored. Her mother never visited her. Jessie Lipscomb, the English sculptress, insisted that it was not true that Camille was insane. Mathias Morhardt said that Paul Claudel was a “fool” and a “slob” who had incarcerated his genius sister.

She died on October 19th, 1943, after 30 years in psychiatric hospitals. Her brother was not present at her death or at her funeral. She was buried at Montfavet. Ten years later her remains were moved to a common grave at the asylum where she had been kept for so many years. Paul didn’t want to bother providing a grave for his sister, however, he left instructions as to where he himself should be buried: under a tree and with specific inscriptions on his gravestone.

Written by: Samantha Hoffmann

Narrated by: Isabela Hoffmann

Information compiled from “50 Women Artists you Should Know” (ed. Prestel) and from Wikipedia.

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