Cover image for Camille Claudel : a life
Camille Claudel : a life
Ayral-Clause, Odile.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Harry N. Abrams, [2002]

Physical Description:
279 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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NB553.C44 A97 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was a gifted 19th-century French sculptor who worked for Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), became his lover, and eventually left him to gain recognition for herself in the art world. After she crumbled under the combined weight of social reproof, deprivations, and art world prejudices, her family had her committed to an asylum, where she died 30 years later. Although Claudel's life has been romanticized in print and on film, a fully researched biography has never been written until this one. The book draws upon much unpublished material, including letters and photographs that confirm the brilliance of her sculpture, clarify her relationship with Rodin (who did not exploit her, but, in fact, supported her work throughout his life), and reveal the true story of her confinement in a mental institution. Claudel's fascinating life touches many aspects of women's issues: creativity, struggle for recognition, conflict with social values, and art world inequities. Illustrated with personal family photographs, this is an intimate and moving tribute to an artist whose life and work have, until now, been misinterpreted and undervalued.

Author Notes

Odile Ayral-Clause, born in France, has lived in the United States for more than twenty years. She is a professor of French at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. She has written several articles on Camille Claudel and contributed an essay to the recent French catalogue raisonne

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In a just world, sculptor Claudel (1864tic genius, but instead she was ostracized. The complete story of Claudel's tragic life has never been thoroughly researched and recounted until now, and Ayral-Clause's polished, to-the-point coverage is galvanizing. Gifted and defiant, Claudel worked valiantly in the most physically and financially demanding of mediums in toxically misogynistic nineteenth-century Paris. Unloved by her small-minded mother, criticized by her dogmatic writer brother, she was supported by her father and elated to have her extraordinary talent recognized by master sculptor Rodin. Claudel became his "most trusted assistant," muse, and lover and created her own unquestionably original work until, forced to acknowledge Rodin's divided loyalties, shaken by an abortion, and determined to be accepted as an artist in her own right, she decided to go it alone. Her profoundly sensual sculptures were controversial, her earnings scant; prolonged hardship and isolation eroded her mental health. Claudel's mother abruptly committed her to an asylum and forbade contact with the outside world, and there she remained for 30 years. Fair and precise, Ayral-Clause's clarion biography arouses the only reasonable response to Claudel's saga: outrage. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

French sculptor Claudel (1864-1943) is best known for her love affair with fellow artist Auguste Rodin, the basis for a late '80s French film starring Grard Depardieu and Isabelle Adjani. Ayral-Clause, a professor of French and the humanities at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, cites original documents and other research to argue that although Rodin is usually depicted as having abandoned a wimpy Camille, in fact Camille was so feisty and in-your-face (a necessity for a woman artist in a man's world) that he wound up running for cover to escape her "insults" once their 15-year-long affair was over. Camille went mad and spent her last 30 years in an asylum. Ayral-Clause's account of these events is clear, although sometimes marred by an artificial prose style with odd syntax: "Events that are denied at the time they occur are often brought back to life through letters or journals discovered later on." Art history students may be disappointed by the generalized comments about Claudel's artworks themselves (shown, along with photos, in 69 b&w illustrations), since the woman, rather than the artist, is in the limelight in this biography. By contrast, Ayral-Clause fully accepts Rodin as a great artist and great man, reserving criticism for Camille's brother, the far-right-wing poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, who ensured she was buried in a common grave for paupers despite the family's great wealth. (June) Forecast: Scholars will find this book, with its mastery of the sources in their original language, a welcome substitute for outdated previous studies, but they will want more in the way of artistic assessment all around; trade readers, by contrast, will want more fully dramatized narrative. The book may get caught in the middle. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Having enjoyed unprecedented access to family archives, photographs, and medical records, Claudel specialist Ayral-Clause (French and the humanities, California Polytechnic State Univ.) offers a fascinating account of the artist while also recording much important minutiae. This is intrinsically a life story; Ayral-Clause concentrates on biographical research, providing fresh information on Claudel's career and relationship with Rodin, for instance, while mentioning Claudel's artwork only secondarily. For virtually her entire life, Claudel was protected by Rodin, her teacher and lover by whom she became pregnant. Yet she was always suspicious of Rodin, and her suspicion intensified with age. Included here are numerous Rodin letters and conversations with politicians, writers, and critics. However, it is the examination of Claudel's later years in mental asylums that makes this book the first fully researched biography of the artist. Reine-Marie Paris's Camille: The Life of Camille Caudel, Rodin's Muse and Mistress (1988) is out of date, and the existing play, film, and multitudes of exhibition catalogs tend to mythologize Claudel. Ayral-Clause commands much new data and an admirable objectivity. Highly recommended. Mary Bruce, Cutler Memorial P.L., Plainfield, VT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Ayral-Clause (French, California Polytechnic State Univ.) delivers a well-researched and tightly written analysis of the career of French sculptor Claudel. A wealth of archival information, including letters from descendants and medical documents from the asylum where the artist spent her final 30 years (only recently made available to scholars) helps to redress the romanticized vision of Claudel as merely Rodin's muse and lover. Newspaper articles and salon reviews help Ayral-Clause to establish not only Claudel's skill in sculpture but also the degree to which her talent was acknowledged during her lifetime: despite praise she received, there were no important commissions and few works sold. Claudel's biography is contextualized through references to important historical and cultural events as well as explanation of the technical processes applied to sculpture during the period. The material is presented in short chapters and is well illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs of the artist, members of her family, and her studio workspaces. The illustrations of Claudel's sculptures are less satisfying than those in Reine-Marie Paris's 1988 exhibition catalog Camille Claudel, but Ayral-Clause's text more than makes up for this shortcoming. Highly recommended for all collections. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. E. K. Menon Purdue University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. 6
Prologue: Reunionp. 8
Chapter 1. An Early Passionp. 10
Chapter 2. Paris in the Eightiesp. 19
Chapter 3. A Constant Challenge to Common Sensep. 30
Chapter 4. A New Studio Partnerp. 38
Chapter 5. Sculpting with Rodinp. 48
Chapter 6. A Difficult Lovep. 57
Chapter 7. Jessie's Last Days in Parisp. 73
Chapter 8. Sakuntalap. 84
Chapter 9. The Waltzp. 97
Chapter 10. The Break-Upp. 109
Chapter 11. A Woman of Geniusp. 118
Chapter 12. Jacob and the Angelp. 130
Chapter 13. The Path of Lifep. 141
Chapter 14. Qual Bourbonp. 152
Chapter 15. 1905p. 167
Chapter 16. Wounded Niobidp. 175
Chapter 17. Ville-Evrardp. 187
Chapter 18. A Room for Camille's Sculpturep. 198
Chapter 19. Montdeverguesp. 205
Chapter 20. Survivingp. 217
Chapter 21. Renewed Friendshipp. 228
Chapter 22. The Last Yearsp. 237
Chapter 23. Camille's Bonesp. 248
Epiloguep. 254
Notesp. 258
Bibliographyp. 271
Indexp. 276
Photo Creditsp. 279