Monday, June 6, 2016

Camille Claudel

I had never heard of Camille Claudel until a couple of months ago.  That is when I came across the historical fiction title Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb.  Being a fan of historical fiction as well as art(of course!) I was interested in reading this book and perhaps suggesting it to my book club.  After going through a few chapters, I just needed to know if Camille Claudel was a real person so I did a quick Wikipedia check making sure not to scroll down too far so I would not "ruin" the story for myself.

As the story went on, I couldn't believe that this story really happened. This was the 1890s and although I am sure that the Parisian art scene was progressive at the time, I couldn't imagine that the events in this book really happened.   I wanted to know more about Camille Claudel.   I got a little obsessive in fact finding out as much as I could about this woman. That is when I found the biography Camille Claudel:  A Life by Odile Avral-Clause and devoured it.

Camille Claudel
The art school and gallery scene of Paris at Camille's time was male driven.  Women were not allowed to attend the same classes as men and had much fewer opportunities to learn and exhibit their work.  In order to be a known artist, it helped to be male not female.
La Valse by Camille Claudel
Maybe it is because I was in a funk when I reading this book or maybe it is because the story just pissed me off but I found myself adding to the list of people from the book  I wanted to throat punch as the book went on.  It didn't help that they are all dead so that these were metaphorical throat punches I wanted to administer.

It first started with Claudel's mother who to me seemed jealous of Camille particularly the attention and love that Camille's father showered on her.  You know how when you watch a movie and something happens and you file that in your file cabinet in your brain under "To Be Determined".  That is what I thought when Claudel's mother was introduced in the beginning.  She seemed like an evil, sinister lady and I thought to myself that this was someone who was not going to NOT get the last word in.  One could see it build through the biography's narrative.

Next person I added to my list of people who frustrated me was Auguste Rodin. 
Auguste Rodin
He was already famous on the Paris art scene by the time he met 18 year old Camille who was a struggling and talented sculptor. She became an apprentice in his studio and quickly became his lover.  Auguste was WAY older than Camille when they met.  He was 43.  He was also living with a lady that he had a son with for the past 20 years. I have read people criticize Claudel in reviews but leave Rodin unscathed.  You can't justify this one.  He was 43.  She was 18.  He should have known better even though Claudel was reportedly stubborn and headstrong and probably would have pursued the relationship anyway.  You could see the train wreck coming down the tracks.
Camille in her studio
I can't remember a biography that drew me in as much as this. This book contains art, passion, regret, love, mental illness and a dysfunctional family that's actions were painful to read at times. Camille, who when younger, was obsessed to live a life of her own choosing became of a victim of her family's ignorance, jealousy and greed. 

After Camille and Rodin's breakup, Camille became more and more mentally unstable as she moved on trying to build an art career on her own.  She became paranoid thinking that Rodin was stealing her ideas and having her followed.  Her beloved father died and soon after that her family, which included famous diplomat and writer Paul Claudel, had her institutionalized in a most cruel fashion.  Even when she was "cleared" by her doctors to leave her asylum, her family refused to release her. T
hough Camille had faults they were in no way so bad that she had to live the rest of her life put away alone. 

I could go on and on about this but I don't want to reveal too much of what happens in case you want to read it.  I highly recommend it. 

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Thanks for reading!

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