Camille Claudel: Who was the French sculptor who broke moulds for women in art?

Kate Ng
Camille Claudel

The life and work of Camille Claudel, the French sculptor who defied gender-based restrictions to pursue her art, is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 155th birthday.

Born in Fere-en-Tardenois, northern France, on 8 December 1864, her works reside in the national Camille Claudel Museum in Nogent-sur-Seine, which opened in 2017, as well as in a room specially dedicated to her in the Musee Rodin in Paris.

Her most famous work of art is a sculpture called 'The Waltz'.

Claudel studied art at the Academie Colarossi in Paris, one of a handful of progressive art schools that accepted women students - in contrast with the prestigious but conservative Ecole des Beaux Arts.

Sculptor Alfred Boucher took Claudel under his wing and became her mentor for over three years, before moving to Florence.

Under Boucher’s guidance, she rented a workshop in 1882 with other young women sculptors including English sculptor Jessie Lipscomb.

Recognition for her artistic talents came posthumously, and she is also remembered for her dramatic relationship with renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Claudel began working with Rodin after Boucher moved away, and quickly became romantically involved with him.

Gender-based discrimination, which was rife in the art world, stopped Claudel from realising some of her more daring sculpture ideas, and she turned to Rodin to collaborate with her in order to get them made.

However, this meant that Rodin received much of the credit for her ideas. Their relationship broke down when he was unwilling to end his long-term relationship and Claudel struggled to gain recognition of her own.

Commissions of her work were scant due to her highly individual style which did not suit conservative tastes at the time, and Claudel descended into mental illness and poverty.

She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital by her brother in 1913 and lived there for nearly 30 years until her death in 1943. Her certificate of admittance reported that Claudel suffered from “systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination”.

Claudel's most recognisable works are also her most personal and revealing of her struggles - 'The Age of Maturity' and 'Perseus and the Gorgon' are emotionally-charged sculptures that coincided with the end of her relationship with Rodin.

The Google Doodle celebrating Claudel was illustrated by Paris-based artists Ichinori, who said: "Camille Claudel is a unique artist of her time, deeply involved in creating and constantly trying to open new doors. Her life was made of poetry, hard work, freedom, drama, and pure creation."

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