Camille Claudel, a French sculptor, is the focus of today’s Google Doodle. She is considered to be a pioneer in the sculpting field, and her sculptures, as well as her likeness, have inspired countless films, songs and operas. December 8th would have been Claudel’s 155th birthday.
“Facing many challenges as a woman in art, Claudel’s determination pushed her to continually break gender molds and create even in the face of adversity,” Google states. “Much of Claudel’s work resides in Musée Camille Claudel in Nogent-sur-Seine, which opened in 2017. Here, art lovers from around the world continue to appreciate Claudel’s oeuvre.”
Here’s what you need to know about Camille Claudel:
1. Claudel Began Sculpting at Age 12 & Studied Under Alfred Boucher
Claudel was born on December 8, 1864 in Aisne, France. Her father, Louis-Prosper Claudel, worked as a bank transaction and mortgage dealer, while her mother, Louise-Athanaïse Cécile Cerveaux, came from a wealthy family of Catholic farmers and priests. Between the ages of 5 and 12, Claudel was taught by the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, and by the time she finished these studies, she had developed her skills as a sculptor.
Claudel’s father arranged for her to meet noted sculptor Alfred Boucher, who took notice of her skills and advised her to move to Paris to study art. Claudel enrolled at the Académie Colarossi, one of the few places open to female students, and Boucher became her mentor. They served as muses for one another, as Claudel sculpted a bust of Boucher, and he depicted her in his 1882 piece Camille Claudel lisant.
Boucher moved to Florence in 1883 after he won the Grand Prix du Salon. He asked Auguste Rodin to step in as the mentor for his group of female pupils, which include Claudel and other noted sculptors like Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett.
2. Claudel Had a Decade-Long Romance with Sculptor Auguste Rodin
Claudel started working in Rodin’s workshop in 1884, and they collaborated on the famous sculptures known as the Kiss (1882) and the Gates of Hell (1880-1890). The two quickly struck up a romance, and Rodin considered Claudel to be his lover and creative music for well over a decade. Because of his reluctance to end his relationship with Rose Beuret, however, the couple were never able to live together.
The romance also caused tension between Claudel and her family. While her father continued to support her choices, Claudel’s mother Louise detested the fact that she was having an affair with her mentor, and Archive.com adds that Louise never relinquished her disappointment over Claudel not being born a man. Claudel left her family home in 1884 and never returned.
Claudel and Rodin continued their romance until 1892, when the former became pregnant and the latter urged her to get an abortion. They had the abortion, but Claudel ended the intimate aspect of their relationship soon after. They remained workplace peers until 1898.
3. Claudel’s Split from Rodin Led to Her Most Acclaimed Work
Despite the emotional turmoil of Claudel and Rodin’s relationship, it’s widely believed that their working partnership greatly benefited the former. “I think this association helped her creativity,” said Cécile Bertran, director of the Camille Claudel Museum.
“Either thanks to the dialogue with his work which enriched her own, or as a reference from which she strived to distance herself,” Bertran added. “It led her to renew her inspiration and create a completely new and modern style. But at times she also seems to have felt creatively oppressed by his association. She was always keen to establish her artistic independence.”
After her relationship with Rodin ended, Claudel created several of her most renowned pieces, including Clotho (1893), The Mature Age (1900) and Fortune (1905). These pieces displayed a newfound sorrow and bitterness towards romance, and Rodin responded to them by pulling the funding and support he previously offered.
4. Claudel Was Admitted to a Psychiatric Hospital After Her Father’s Death In 1913
Claudel began to show erratic behavior in 1905. She destroyed dozens of her own sculptures, spent most of her time secluded in her home, and accused Rodin of stealing many of her ideas. She also became convinced that Rodin was trying to have her killed. Claudel’s brother Paul documented her behavior in journal form, noting that she was losing her grip on what was real and what was imagined.
“Crazy Camille, wallpaper pulled off in long shreds and armchair broken and torn, horrible filthiness,” Paul wrote. “She, enormous and dirty, incessantly speaking in a metallic monotone.” A friend of Claudel’s, Eugene Blot, also noted that she had “she was forty but looked fifty,” and was “in a state of physical decline.”
Claudel’s mental battles were exacerbated when her father died on March 2, 1913. She was not informed of his death until eight days later, but upon being told, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne. Paul’s name was on the admittance slip, even though the paperwork states Claudel was there on her own volition. Her mother forbade anyone besides her immediate family to contact or visit her.
5. Claudel Died In 1943 After Spending 3 Decades In an Asylum
Claudel spent the rest of her life in care. She was transferred to Montdevergues Asylum on September 7, 1914, and her certificate of admittance claimed that she suffering “from a systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination.” Modern scholars have diagnosed Claudel’s symptoms as being consistent with paranoid schizophrenia.
Claudel died on October 19, 1943 at age 78. Her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum, per the book Camille Claudel: A Life. “Ten years after her death, Camille’s bones had been transferred to a communal grave, where they were mixed with the bones of the most destitute,” wrote author Odile Ayral-Clause. “Joined forever to the ground she tried to escape for so long, Camille never, ever, returned to her beloved Villeneuve. A simple plaque reminds the curious visitor that Camille Claudel once lived there, but her remains are still in exile, somewhere, just a few steps away from the place where she was sequestered for thirty years.”
A series of biographies and films reintroduced Claudel to audiences in the 1980s. Chief among them is the 1988 drama Camille Claudel, which detailed the artist’s relationship with Rodin and earned Isabelle Adjandi an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Today, Claudel is considered to be an innovator in the field of sculpting. Her willingness to use autobiographical experiences and emotions to shape her work has been influencing generations.