Sculpture in middle-class homes
After the fashion of the mechanically reproduced prints popular during the 19th century, reproductions of sculptures abundantly adorned middle-class interiors. Reproductions were produced to suit all budgets (in bronze, patinated plaster, Sèvres bisque porcelain, carton-pierre, zinc plated in copper via galvanoplasty, etc.), as well as all tastes. Miniatures in different sizes were also made available.
The boom in the production of bronzes during the 19th century was made possible thanks to three innovations. Firstly, the device invented by Achille Collas, which allowed its users to mechanically reduce or increase the scale of models. Achille Collas was awarded a Grand Médaille d'Honneur for his invention at the 1855 Exposition Universelle of Paris. Secondly, progress made in the sand casting technique, which allowed for the mass reproduction of a given work. Thirdly, the establishment of contracts between sculptors and foundries, which protected the creators’ ownership rights and ensured them an income. The manufacturers’ success depended not only upon technical advances, but also their marketing talents and their discernment in the selection of artists and oeuvres likely to satisfy the dominant academic tastes of their middle-class clientele. No less than 153 manufacturers were present at the Exposition Universelle of 1889. Among this multitude, a few names stood out, with their boutiques resembling art galleries: Barbedienne, Susse Frères, Thiébaud Frères, Siot Decaux-Ville and Hébrard. Bronze reproductions were a hallmark of the 19th century, embodying the century’s dream: the marriage of art and industry, backed by the French state both for economic reasons and as a means of supporting France's image as a nation of the arts.
19th-century sculpture was marked by the manufacture of reduced scale reproductions. In the 1870s and 1880s, contemporary works became increasingly common in the manufacturers’ catalogues. Numerous artists created works destined specifically for industrial production. At the same time, monumental works commissioned for the public sphere, such as funereal sculptures, were added to the catalogues. This trend was illustrated, for example, by The Spinner of Bou-Saada created by Barrias for the tomb of the painter Guillaumet at the Montmartre cemetery.
Among the most fashionable subjects were historical themes, female nudes tinged with eroticism and the figures of children. Sculptors did not hesitate to place their talents at the service of the decorative arts, notably in the designing of vases (Cheret, Rodin, Desbois, Dalou, etc.) and spectacular centrepieces (Frémiet and Agathon Léonard).
Sculpture of Camille Claudel's time
The Nogent-sur-Seine collection stands out for its temporal coherence, presenting sculptures from approximately 1870 to 1910, a particularly splendid period for sculpture and especially rich starting in 1880 with the nascent stylistic transformation characterized by a search for expression and meaning.
The section “Sculpture at the time of Camille Claudel” considers how sculptors – attached to the subject and the body's representation, steeped in classical culture and technically impeccable – positioned themselves during this period of transformation, borrowing from various sensibilities according to the subject, or on the contrary limiting themselves to a constant, personal search for expressiveness and meaning.
What is the significance of this profusion of sculptures in the public sphere, commissioned by the triumphant French Republic or groups of citizens seeking to pay tribute to their “great men”? This sculpture of the street, the "people's museum", tells a story, instructs, moralizes and adorns. How are mythological subjects interpreted in the academic and symbolist milieus? What is the influence of the rediscovery of the Florentine Quattrocento? Given the confusion of styles present during this period, and the scientific studies in anatomy and morphology taught at the École des Beaux-Arts fine arts school, what canons of the nude female body were adopted? How did this young democracy present the image of “work”? What subjects best evoked this “movement” that so well symbolized the 19th century?
A projection room allows visitors to immerse themselves in the Paris and the Parisian art life of the late 19th century familiar to Camille Claudel.
One at once understands the extent to which, in this context, competition was fierce, especially for a young female sculptor, whose first obstacle was locating a school welcoming women, and then managing to stand out amongst the plethora of sculptors present at the annual Salon, affirming her originality and seeking understanding. While the evolutions in painting during this period – notably impressionism – are well known, those in sculpture are yet to be fully explored. Camille Claudel belongs to the movement initiated principally by Rodin. The contextualization of her creations is therefore all the more rich in meaning.
Museum of sculpture
By the quirks of fate, four sculptors, renowned during their lifetime, have resided in Nogent-sur-Seine: Marius Ramus (1805-1888), Paul Dubois (1829-1905), Alfred Boucher (1850-1934) and Camille Claudel (1864-1943). They maintained intergenerational professional relations and held each other in friendly esteem. The museum of Nogent-sur-Seine, created under the impetus of Alfred Boucher, today presents an important collection of sculptures by these four artists, further enriched by numerous works created by their compatriots.
At the height of his success, Alfred Boucher strove to found in Nogent-sur-Seine the museum that had been lacking during his own apprenticeship under Marius Ramus. This philanthropist drew largely from his own personal collection and solicited his friends and acquaintances, while the town acquired the so-called “Château” to house the new museum. The children of Marius Ramus and Paul Dubois also lent their support to the project.
The Dubois-Boucher Municipal Museum was inaugurated on 12 October 1902. On 21 May 1905, the sculpture gallery, housing primarily large-scale models destined for the public sphere, was in turn inaugurated, thanks to the generous contributions of Alfred Boucher’s friends and the widow of Paul Dubois. The museum was therefore capable of welcoming the full-scale model for the Joan of Arc equestrian statue by Paul Dubois the very day of the museum’s 1902 inauguration ceremony. The museum continued to strengthen its specificity: sculpture from 1870 to 1910. Studio collection donations contributed to the creation of a museum of sculpture and of sculptors. This particularity would be further reinforced by the coherent acquisition policy pursued between 1980 and 2013, peaking with the purchase of works by Camille Claudel from Reine-Marie Paris and Philippe Cressent in 2008. The same year, the town managed to purchase the only monumental marble work by the artist, thanks to the contributions of patrons and the Fonds du Patrimoine national heritage fund (attributed by the French Ministry of Culture).
The radical transformation of the municipal museum – involving the construction of a new 2,400-m2 building, as well as the renaming of the museum (the first in the world to be named after Camille Claudel) – has necessitated a reconsideration of its collection and the redesigning of its exhibition to put into perspective the oeuvre of Camille Claudel and examine the role she played in the artistic landscape of her period.
Camille Claudel and Nogent-sur-Seine
It was in Nogent-sur-Seine that Camille Claudel’s lifetime calling as a sculptor first took shape. She was twelve when her father was named registrar of mortgages in the administrative capital of the Aube canton. Louis-Prosper Claudel would occupy this position from 1876 to 1879, three years that would leave their indelible mark on his eldest daughter. The young girl became fascinated by modelling.
In this pottery-making region, she found the clay she needed on-site. This activity became so important within the family home that the ever attentive father eventually decided to seek the advice of Alfred Boucher, awarded second prize in sculpture for the Prix de Rome bursary in 1876, most likely upon the artist’s return from Italy. Boucher regularly returned to Nogent to call on his parents. This meeting would prove decisive, with Alfred Boucher detecting the budding talent of the self-taught Camille Claudel. He set about teaching her the rudiments of sculpting, correcting and encouraging her and reinforcing her choices. He was convinced of her artistic qualities.
Alfred Boucher’s opinion undoubtedly played a central role in Louis-Prosper Claudel’s decision to send to Paris, in 1881, his wife, Louise Athanaïse Claudel, and their three children, Camille, Louise and Paul, so as to offer them a superior education. In Paris, Camille Claudel took courses at the Académie Colarossi, and shared a studio with young female English students. Alfred Boucher stopped by twice weekly to follow her progress, up until 1882 when a gold medal at the Salon des Artistes Français gave him the opportunity to pursue a study trip to Florence. But prior to departing, he convinced Auguste Rodin to take over for him. This choice was significant, for Alfred Boucher, who had orchestrated his defence during The Age of Bronze affair, considered Rodin the greatest sculptor of his time.
The acquisition in 2008 of the works by Camille Claudel collected by Reine-Marie Paris and Philippe Cressent, to enrich the museum created in Nogent-sur-Seine by Alfred Boucher back in 1902, can be seen as a second encounter between these two local artists.
1909-1943 : Period of confinement
Spells of delirious paranoia focusing on “Rodin’s band” influence her creative output, to the point of drying it up. She is confined to a mental hospital on 10 March 1913, where she will remain for the rest of her days.
1911: Camille Claudel’s physical and mental health worsens, worrying her brother. She shuts herself in.
In a letter to Henriette Thierry (undated, circa 1912), she evokes her destructive tendencies:
“When I received your announcement, I was in such a state of anger that I took all of my wax models and threw them in the fire, it made quite a blaze and I warmed my feet in its glow, that’s what I do when something unpleasant happens to me, I take my hammer and smash up some chap […]
The large statue nearly met the same fate as its little wax sisters, for Henri’s death was followed a few days later by more bad news [...] And many more capital punishments were carried out soon after, with a pile of rubble accumulating in the middle of my studio, it's a veritable human sacrifice."
Correspondances, A. Rivière, B. Gaudichon, Paris 2008.
1913 : confinement
Camille Claudel is not informed of her father’s death on 3 March in Villeneuve-sur-Fère – the father who had ever shown his love for her and protected her. She would therefore not attend his funeral.
On 7 March, Doctor Michaux drafts the confinement certificate for Camille Claudel, who is now 48 years old.
On 10 March, she is confined at Ville-Evrard (in the Val-de-Marne). The procedure adopted is that of “voluntary placement”, as requested by her mother.
She is transferred to the Montdevergues asylum from 5-7 September 1914 due to the war. There she would remain until her death in 1943.
1929: Jessie Lipscomb and her husband visit Camille Claudel during a trip to Europe. This meeting is immortalized by a photograph.
Camille Claudel dies on 19 October 1943, at the age of seventy-eight. Her brother had last visited her on 21 September. She is first buried at the Montfavet cemetery in a temporary tomb, before being transferred to the communal grave.
In 1914, while Auguste Rodin is negotiating the establishment of his museum within the Hôtel Biron, on Rue de Varennes, Mathias Morhard requests that he set aside a room for Camille Claudel. Rodin approves the initiative, but Paul Claudel is categorically opposed. Rodin dies on 17 November. His funeral is held at the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, where he is buried.
Between 1934 and 1938, works by Camille Claudel are displayed at the Salon des Femmes Artistes Modernes (“Modern Women Artists Exhibition”).
In 1949, against all expectations, Paul Claudel requests that the Musée Rodin host a retrospective exhibition of his sister’s oeuvre. Cécile Goldsheinder and Paul Claudel work closely together, with the latter authoring the catalogue’s preface entitled “My Sister Camille”, in which he presents a study of her works and an intimate portrait of the artist.
In 1952, Paul Claudel makes an essential donation to the Musée Rodin: the first version of The Age of Maturity in plaster, the second in bronze, The Abandonment in marble and Clotho in plaster.
1893 -1908 : Period of solitary creation
“I have lots of new ideas that would please you enormously (…) I'm greatly enjoying working (…) As you can see, it’s no longer anything like Rodin (…)” These few lines from a letter written by Camille Claudel to her brother in December 1893 reveal her current state of mind.
Break-up with Rodin
1893: Camille Claudel distances herself from Rodin and isolates herself in her work, exasperated by even the most laudatory critics, who hasten to connect her work with that of her master. She would never cease to distance herself, to underline her uniqueness and autonomy. She embarks in new directions and begins her “sketches from life” series inspired by everyday subjects.
Nevertheless, Rodin, at the height of his career, would continue to discreetly support her both financially and within the art world.
In late 1893, Rodin rents the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, to which he moves with Rose Beuret. He would become the owner of the property in 1895.
Rodin succeeds Dalou as president of the sculpture section of the S.N.B.A. and Camille Claudel is made a member.
S.N.B.A.: The Waltz (n° 37) and Clotho (n° 38)
In 1893, Paul Claudel begins his consular career. He takes up his duties as Vice Consul in New York in April, then as Deputy Consul in Boston in December. Paul’s departure coincides with the start of Camille’s separation from Rodin.
1894: Stay in Guernsey.
S.N.B.A: The God in Flight (n° 35) and The Little Chatelaine (bronze, n° 36)
La Libre Esthétique exhibition in Brussels: The Waltz (n° 94), Contemplation (n° 95), Psalm (n° 96) (a bronze cast kept at the Abbeville Museum) and First Step (n° 97)
In 1895, Camille Claudel receives two commissions: in January, Clotho in marble to commemorate the banquet held in honour of Puvis de Chavannes, then, in July, her first commission by the French State: The Age of Maturity. Inspector Dayot’s reports allow one to follow the various stages in the elaboration of this major work in the artist’s career. The various models are kept at the Musée Rodin.
In the end, the State would not honour its commission for reasons that remain unclear. As for Clotho, this work would mysteriously disappear from the Musée du Luxembourg.
S.N.B.A.: Camille Claudel exhibits Jeanne as a Child in marble (n° 20), the Bust of Léon Lhermitte in bronze (n° 21), a cast of which is kept at the Nogent Museum, Study of a Japanese in plaster (n° 22) and Confidence in plaster (n° 23).
In June 1895, Paul Claudel departs for Shanghai.
In 1896, Camille Claudel makes two fateful encounters: Mathias Morhardt, editor at the newspaper Le Temps, and the Countess de Maigret, who would be her main patron up until 1905.
In September, she instructs Mathias Morhardt to convince Rodin to stop visiting her, so as to prove that he has no hand in the creation of her oeuvres.
S.N.B.A.: The Little Chatelaine, in marble (n° 24 bis)
Art Nouveau exhibition: version of The Waltz in Muller flamed sandstone (kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum).
The Musée Rath in Geneva: plaster of The Gossips, drawn from a marble. A copy is kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum.
Installation quai Bourbon
1898: In March, Mathias Morhardt publishes in Le Mercure de France the artist's first biography.
Camille Claudel breaks once and for all with Rodin and rents a studio at 63 Rue de Turenne.
S.N.B.A.: Hamadryade (n° 35), Deep in Thought (n° 36) (a marble and bronze copy kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum), and the Bust of Mr X... (n° 36 bis).
1899: In January, Camille Claudel moves to the Île Saint-Louis, 19 Quai Bourbon, her final lodgings and studio, where she lives and works in reclusion. She is in full possession of her art.
S.N.B.A.: Portrait of Mr the Count of M... (Maigret) in marble (n° 26), Clotho in marble (n° 27), The Age of Maturity in plaster (n° 28) and Perseus in plaster (n° 29).
In June, the commission for The Age of Maturity bronze is drafted but then cancelled for obscure reasons by the Fine Arts Director, Henry Roujon. Camille Claudel holds Rodin responsible for this setback. She meets Captain Tissier, who despite his limited means will allow for the casting of The Age of Maturity, starting with the imploring woman cast by Gruet in 1899.
World's Fair in Paris
World's Fair in Paris: Deep in Thought in marble (n° 139), Dream by the Fire in plaster (n° 140) and Ophelia (Hamadryade) (n° 141).
Salon de la Plume exhibition: Bust of Rodin, in bronze.
Camille Claudel’s meeting with the merchant-editor Eugène Blot (1857-1938) through Gustave Geoffroy, around 1900, would allow for the greater diffusion of her oeuvre. Eugène Blot’s gallery, at 5 Boulevard de la Madeleine, is famous among art enthusiasts. He exhibits the great impressionist artists and himself owns a remarkable collection, with works by such artists as Carrière, Rodin, Renoir, Sysley, Monet, Pissaro and Degas. From his father, he had inherited a foundry still in operation. This encounter would prove essential for the preservation of the artist's oeuvre, given her later propensity to destroy her own sculptures during moments of anguish.
Her brother Paul stays in France from January to September, then returns to China (to the city of Foochow).
S.N.B.A.: Her final participation in the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts exhibition with the life-size Perseus in marble (n° 47), Bust of the Countess de Maigret (n° 48), Alsatian, silver-patinated terracotta (n° 49), and cast of The Age of Maturity by Thiebaut Frères for Captain Tissier (kept at the Musée d’Orsay).
Starting from this date, Camille Claudel exhibits her works at either the Salon des Artistes Français or the Salon d’Automne.
S.A.F.: The Age of Maturity, bronze belonging to Captain Tissier (n° 2658).
1904: She befriends Henri Asselin.
The Salon d’Automne: Fortune (n° 1730), cast by Blot (a copy kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum).
Blot casts The Flute Player (a copy kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum).
Starting in 1904, the art merchant Eugène Blot casts some fifteen bronze copies of her statues.
1905: Paul, having returned from China in April, publishes in July the article "Camille Claudel's Statuary" in the journal L’Occident.
Brother and sister spend part of August together in the Pyrenees. She brings back sketches for a bust of Paul Claudel Aged Thirty-Seven.
Eugène Blot acquires Fortune.
S.A.F.: Vertumnus and Pomona, marble (n° 2980) (variation on The Abandonment); The Mermaid, bronze (n° 2981).
The third Salon d’Automne: The Abandonment, bronze.
The Galerie Eugène Blot, from 4 to 16 December: Bernard Hoetger and Camille Claudel.
Already at the first exhibition, in 1905, eleven important bronzes were displayed: Entreaty, in two sizes, Perseus, Dream by the Fire, Fortune, Intimacy, The Old Woman, The Mermaid, The Abandonment, The Waltz and The Gossips. These bronzes are displayed as part of the gallery’s permanent collection and would be regularly exhibited during group events.
During the evening following the inauguration of December 1905, held at Eugène Blot’s home, Camille Claudel loses her temper and makes a scene. Her violent attitude and shocking demonstrations distance her from her loved ones and those who have remained her friends.
1906 – The artist receives a commission from the Department of Fine Arts: a bronze cast of The Wounded Niobid (entrusted to the Fine Arts Museum of Poitiers).
1906 marks the beginning of those periods characterized by the destruction of her sculptures.
Paul Claudel gets married and departs for China.
1907 – The French State purchases, through Eugène Blot, a bronze cast of The Abandonment. (Entrusted to the Cambrai Museum)
Galerie Eugène Blot, 11 Rue Richepense, 24 October – 10 November, exhibitions of new sculptures by Camille Claudel and paintings by Manguin, Marquet and Puy. (The Age of Maturity, bronze miniature; Bust of a Young Girl, marble)
Galerie Berheim-Jeune, 16 December 1907 – 4 January 1908: “Portraits of Men”
Final exhibition at the Galerie Eugène Blot, 1-24 December: Youth and The Age of Maturity (miniature), bronze; Entreaty, bronze; The Abandonment (Vertumnus and Pomona), marble; The Waltz, gilded bronze; Aurora, bronze; Old Man (study for The Age of Maturity), bronze; two busts of women; Perseus, bronze; Fortune, bronze; and The Inspired Woman, original marble.
S.N.B.A.: Portrait of Rodin, lithograph by Hochard based on the work by Camille Claudel.
1886 - 1893 : Rodin and Camille Claudel: a tumultuous love affair and an impassioned, intense artistic dialogue.
While the earliest works by Camille Claudel at the beginning of her intense relationship with Rodin testify to her master’s influence, it is during this relationship that her own personality and the full extent of her talent become apparent.
The two sculptors are closest during this period. Rodin, who considers his young collaborator a great artist, shares with her all of his knowledge and in return enjoys "the happiness of being ever understood, of seeing his expectations ever exceeded". This constitutes “one of the great joys of his artistic life” (Mathias Morhardt).
Stay in England
In the springtime of 1886, Camille Claudel stays with the Lipscombs in Peterborough in England, then in August on the Isle of Wight with Dr Jeans, along with Jessie Lipscomb and Paul Claudel. At Nottingham Castle, she exhibits (with Jessie Lispscomb) the Portrait of Jessie in unbaked clay. She returns to Paris in September, bringing back charcoal drawings.
Upon her return from England, jealous and exclusive Camille Claudel demands of Rodin, in a “contract” signed on 12 October, that he accept no other (female) student but she, that he protect her within the artistic circles and that he marry her following a trip to Italy or Chile. This contract would never be followed up.
In November 1886, Camille Claudel focuses her energy on the creation of a large ensemble inspired by a drama by the Hindu poet Kalidasa: Shakuntala. Begun in the studio at 177 Rue des Petits Champs, this oeuvre would be completed in the studio at 113 Boulevard d’Italie, to which she would move in January 1888. A photograph shows her before the earthen model of the ensemble's young woman, most likely modelled after Jasmina, who is regularly mentioned in her correspondence.
On 8 November 1886, she writes to Florence Jeans:
"I’m now working on my two larger-than-life figures and I have two models per day: a woman in the morning, a man in the evening. You can understand how tired I am: I regularly work 12 hours a day, from 7 in the morning until 7 in the evening, and when I get home, it's impossible for me to remain standing and I go directly to bed."
Engagement of Louise et conversion of Paul
Her sister Louise and Ferdinand de Massary become engaged. They would marry in 1888. Camille Claudel sculpts a bust of Louise the year of their engagement, followed by a bust of Ferdinand de Massary the year of their marriage.
On 25 December, Paul attends Christmas vespers at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral and converts to Catholicism.
The Folie-Neubourg and château de l’Islette
1887: Trip to Touraine with Rodin in search of references for the monument to Balzac. They stay at Château de l’Islette in Azay-le-Rideau.
1890 – 1892: Camille Claudel summers at Château de l’Islette in Azay-le-Rideau, where she is joined by A. Rodin.
1888: Rodin rents the Folie-Neubourg au Clos-Payen, n° 68 Boulevard d’Italie, to work alone with Camille Claudel, who in January moves to 113 Boulevard d’Italie (today Boulevard E. Blanqui), located nearly opposite the Clos-Payen. The lease is signed by Rodin.
S.A.F.: Young Roman (n° 3779) and Young Girl with a Sheaf, in terracotta (kept at the Musée Rodin)
S.A.F.: Shakuntala, plaster, (n° 3930), which earned an honourable mention (kept at the Chateauroux Museum)
Discovering of Far Eastern art
1889: Camille Claudel discovers Far Eastern art at the World's Fair in Paris, in the company of Claude Debussy. The dazzling pavilion welcomed 596 exhibitors.
Creation of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts
Creation of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (“National Society of Fine Art”), which organizes its own exhibition. Rodin is a founding member.
Exhibition of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts: Bust of Charles Lhermitte (n° 4189). A bronze cast is kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum.
A. Rodin and C. Claudel travel to Touraine in July 1889.
Beginning of independence
In 1892, Camille Claudel rents an apartment at 11 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, near the marble depot studio on Rue de l’Université, but keeps her studio on Boulevard d’Italie. The two sculptors grow further apart, both romantically and professionally.
S.N.B.A.: Bust of Rodin, in bronze (n° 1482). A cast is kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum.
1881-1885 : Her arrival in Paris and encounter with Auguste Rodin: a decisive turning point
Like Alfred Boucher, Rodin is seduced by the exceptional talent of his new student. At the age of 19, she is admitted to his studio as an assistant and rapidly becomes his collaborator, mistress, model and muse.
Moving to Paris
In 1881, Louise Athanaïse Claudel moves with her three children to Paris (135 Boulevard du Montparnasse). She has evidently given in to her husband’s desire to provide their son the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Paul enters the Lycée Louis le Grand, while Camille takes sculpting lessons at the Académie Colarossi (10 Rue de la Grande Chaumière).
Learning with the masters
In 1882, the family lives at 111 Rue Notre-Dame des Champs. Camille Claudel rents a studio at n° 177 of the same street, sharing the rent with other young women, most of whom are English. Alfred Boucher visits once a week to correct their work. Rodin agrees to take over from his friend Alfred Boucher, to whom the Prix du Salon of 1882 offers the opportunity to enjoy a study trip to Italy. In the autumn, the latter departs for Florence.
Alfred Boucher had presented Camille Claudel to Paul Dubois, a native of Nogent-sur-Seine, director of the École des Beaux-Arts fine arts school. Paul Dubois is cited among the young sculptor’s masters in the Salon catalogues, but his role in her apprenticeship at this time remains unknown.
The Old Helen bust dates from this period. The teachings of Alfred Boucher are evident in this work’s naturalistic style.
In Rodin studio
In 1880, the Department of Fine Arts had commissioned Rodin to design the portal to the future Museum of Decorative Arts (The Gates of Hell), to be built on the site of the old Court of Auditors burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871. This commission allowed him to benefit from a studio at the state marble depot, located on Rue de l’Université, which he would retain for the rest of his life, and obligated him to hire assistants, especially as this commission was soon followed by that for The Burghers of Calais (officially commissioned in January 1885). He would work on this ensemble in his studio at 117 Boulevard de Vaugirard.
Rodin is seduced by the fiery temperament and exceptional talent of his new student. In 1884, she is admitted to his studio as an assistant and rapidly becomes his collaborator, mistress, model and muse. They work together in harmony, sharing studios and models. Her own works betray the influence of her master. Their intense, tormented relationship would have an everlasting effect on both artists.
Jessie Lipscomb, a young English sculptor, arrives in Paris in 1883. She stays with the Claudels, while working at the studio at 177 Rue des Petits Champs.
Exhibition: S.A.F.: Bust of Madame B..., plaster (n° 3474) (whereabouts unknown)
1885: The Claudel family moves to 31 Boulevard de Port-Royal. In April, Camille Claudel registers for the anatomy gallery of the Natural History Museum.
Paul and Camille Claudel attend Mallarmé’s famous Tuesday gatherings.
S.A.F.: Giganti (n° 3495) (cast at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum) and Old Helen in terracotta (n° 3497) (kept at the Nogent-sur-Seine Museum)
1876 – 1881: An early vocation discovered and encouraged by Alfred Boucher
It is in Nogent-sur-Seine that young Camille first becomes fascinated in modelling and receives her first lessons by the sculptor Alfred Boucher, moved by her precocious talent. This encounter would prove decisive for her future.
Installation in Nogent-sur-Seine
In the autumn of 1876, Louis-Prosper Claudel is promoted to registrar of mortgages in Nogent-sur-Seine. The couple and their three children move for three years to a fine townhouse dating from the 18th century, today extending out like a prow at the museum entrance.
Camille, Louise and Paul are aged 12, 10 and 8, respectively. Their education is entrusted to a private tutor, Monsieur Colin, who would manage to provide them with a solid formal education.
“Between grammar, arithmetic or history lessons, this studio [the family house] is the centre of general activity. With the help of her younger sister and her young brother, […] Mademoiselle Claudel reigns sovereign. Under her direction, and while she feverishly twists her lumps, one person beats the clay for modelling, a second mixes the plaster, a third poses as a model…” (...)“At this time, she has yet to take a single drawing or modelling lesson. Her only concept of the naked body is that provided by her écorché, and a few engravings from old books. No matter, with a wonderful enterprising spirit, she creates naked forms that seem most credible to her […] Everything she reads inspires sculptural motifs.”
(Mathias Morhardt, « Mademoiselle Camille Claudel », in Mercure de France, Paris, 1898).
It is in Nogent that she models her first earthen figurines: David and Goliath, Bismarck and Napoleon (lost works).
Decisive encounter with Alfred Boucher
At the age of twelve, Camille Claudel demonstrates a remarkable gift for sculpture. Her father, troubled by this vocation evident at such an early age, seeks the advice – most likely through his children’s tutor – of the sculptor Alfred Boucher, who regularly visits his parents still residing in Nogent-sur-Seine. Alfred Boucher is the first to detect her talents, teaching her the rudiments of sculpture and lavishing her with advice. Just recently awarded second prize in sculpture for the Prix de Rome bursary in 1876, Boucher’s judgement carries great weight with Louis-Prosper Claudel. This meeting would prove decisive for the future of the young girl fiercely determined to become a sculptor.
Eugénie Plé, the Claudels’ old servant, remembers :
“Alfred Boucher advising Camille […] to move to the capital"
(Yves Lacasse, Claudel : les œuvres de jeunesse, in the catalogue for the exhibition Claudel – Rodin, p. 22).
But the young girl’s vocation brings her parents into conflict: a female sculptor is a challenging concept in this late 19th century, when a woman must choose between either marriage or a career resulting in solitude and a renunciation of her sexuality.
1864 – 1876: Early childhood in a provincial middle-class family
The Claudel siblings grew up in an insular family, in an atmosphere of constant squabbling, between an abrupt yet loving father attentive to the education of his children and a mother focused on day-to-day concerns and needy of affection.
Fère-en-Tardenois and Bar-le-Duc
Camille Claudel is born on 8 December 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois (in the Aisne department), where her father, Louis-Prosper Claudel, is a collector of registry fees. He had married Louise-Athanaïse Cervaux in 1862. Camille is the eldest of three children. Her sister Louise is born on 2 February 1866, also in Fère-en-Tardenois, and her brother Paul is born on 6 August 1868 in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, in the presbytery where the family is welcomed in 1866 by the priest, Madame Claudel’s uncle.
In 1870, Louis Prosper Claudel is transferred to Bar-le-Duc (in the Meuse department).There, Camille is instructed by the Sisters of the Christian Doctrine.
Holidays at Villeneuve-sur-Fère
Villeneuve-sur-Fère would remain an important anchoring point for all three children. Camille and Paul would never forget their escapades among the stream of rocks sculpted by the elements, in the very heart of the forest, at the place known as “Le Géyn”.
Every year, they would also spend a few weeks with Louis-Prosper Claudel’s family in the Vosges, on the shore of Lake Gérardmer.
Camille and Paul
The Claudel children are raised within a closed, tense family circle. According to his son, Louis-Prosper Claudel is hard and severe, but honest and devoted to his family. Madame Claudel is occupied all day long with the household chores. “Never a moment to think about herself, nor very much about others", "She never kissed us". The family’s values are work, effort, economy, honesty and a sense of duty. Over the years, Camille and Paul have built up an intense relationship that would last all their lives. They support and encourage one another, becoming very close.