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  • Writer's pictureAndrew McIlroy

Camille Claudel: More than Rodin’s muse

In director Bruno Nuytten’s award winning film, Camille Claudel, renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin (Gérard Depardieu) is enthralled by the raw sculpting talent of the beautiful and gifted Camille Claudel (Isabelle Adjani). The two artists begin a scandalous love affair, with Claudel becoming Rodin’s assistant and muse, sacrificing her own work to labour on his sculptures. However, when her work goes unrecognised, Claudel feeling discarded and alone, gradually spirals into mental illness.

Nuytten’s cinematic masterpiece remains as poignant and inspirational a portrayal today for sculptors and indeed artists from all disciplines as it did upon its release in 1990. But the film does not go on to show Claudel's salvation from her anguish, later escaping Rodin’s shadow and establishing a reputation of her own, with sculptures that focused on everyday life, particularly portraits of women.

Camille Claudel

Claudel struggled throughout her life against the creep of insanity, and lived in fear that Rodin was stealing her ideas. This it is said led her to destroy much of her own work - no doubt contributing to its scarcity today. Claudel produced no more than a hundred sculptures during the course of her troubled life.

Claudel died institutionalised and penniless on 19 October, 1943 in Montdevergues, France.

Seventy-four years later a collection of 20 rare works by Claudel, once belonging to her sister Louise Claudel, broke records at auction when they sold in Paris for a combined total of €3.6 million (AUD$5.6 million), more than three times the high estimate.

Camille Claudel, L’Abandon, grand modèle (1886). Photo: Artcurial

Camille Claudel, L’Homme Penché (c1886). Photo: Artcurial

At last week's auction Claudel’s well-known figurative sculpture L’Abandon (c1886), thought to draw on Claudel’s tortured relationship with Rodin who refused to leave his lifelong partner, Rose Beuret, was bought by an international collector for €1.2 million (AUD$1.86 million), twice the high estimate.

Meanwhile, the bust Le petite Châtelaine à la natte courbe (c1892), which sold for €492,000 (AUD$765,000) to a European collector, set a new auction record for a plaster work by the artist.

A sculpture of two embracing figures, Etude II pour Sakountala (c1886), was pre-empted by the Musée d’Orsay for €467,800 (AUD$727,000), a record price for a terracotta by Claudel. The museum now has a year to raise the money to pay for the work.

Camille Claudel, La petite Châtelaine à la natte courbe (c1892) Photo: Artcurial

Artcurial auctioneer, Bruno Jaubert, said that the results indicate that the market has finally caught up to the quality of Claudel’s works.

“Cast under the shadow of her master Auguste Rodin for a long time, … Camille Claudel was finally celebrated by collectors of the whole world,” he said. “Her work, distinguished by some of the most important museums, has now been forever admitted to the pantheon of modern sculpture.”

The world can be a cruel place.

Main Photo: Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani in Bruno Nuytten's, Camille Claudel

Andrew McIlroy is a visual artist, living and working in Melbourne, Australia

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