The brand new Camille Claudel museum left me somewhat disturbed and disappointed when I was looking forward to being delighted! Why? Read on.
The small town is 100 kilometers southeast of Paris. Yes, it is a typical adorable French village on the Seine, with the exception of the nuclear plant nearby, but I wish a place could have been found in Paris.
The museum just opened March 26, 2017, and because it was an unusually sunny and warm Palm Sunday afternoon, the thought of getting out in the French countryside felt very inviting.
Once turning off the autoroute, the ride became extremely pleasurable driving through the bright yellow fields of flowering colza.
The lovely smell of colza in bloom is as soothing and sweet as the sunny yellow flowers are vibrant to the eyes.
Camille Claudel was born in 1864 elsewhere in northern France and only lived in Nogent sur Seine about 3 years during her adolescence.
It was there that she first felt the stirrings of wanting to sculpt, going out to dig up the wet clay from the surroundings areas that became the first medium of this budding young artist.
It was also there that Alfred Boucher, an already acclaimed sculptor met her and encouraged her in her art. She later studied under him.
Actually this museum is a renovation and renaming of an older one dedicated to Alfred Boucher and Paul Dubois, both tremendously gifted sculptors who created the museum in 1902 in Dubois’ native village.
As you enter the bright and airy initial rooms, you will find all of the sculptures belong to Boucher and Dubois, which however beautiful they were to look at, was disappointing in concept as it left me wondering where are the works of Camille?
The museum has been renamed in her honor and I really don’t understand why her works aren’t prominent in the beginning as they should be. At least there is a metal sculpture of hers at the entrance appropriately so.
The museum presents these two sculptors works as an example of what influences were present in her field at that time. All of that is fine, but why were there so many pieces and why in the initial rooms?
Camille Claudel’s sculptures begin halfway through the second floor with her earliest work of La Vieille Helene in bronze. Next were presented several, like La Femme Accroupie(crouched woman) where one can see the incredible similarities of her works with Rodin.
Camille’s rendition I find much softer and feminine, seen to the right, whereas Rodin’s has an air of vulgarity to it, seen below.
These she completed after breaking off with Rodin in order to gain independence and remove herself from his emotional abuse.
As you can see there is more finesse and detailing in the sculpturing of Camille’s in comparison. She was able to sculpt cleaner lines with real emphasis of human anatomy of muscles and bone structure.
Rodin’s looked more rough without smooth surfaces, only mimicking underlying human structure and sometimes blatantly distorting them according to his taste and eye.
By 1909 she started to sculpt in total seclusion and became increasingly depressed with paranoid convictions. In fits of despair, she ends up destroying a lot of her works.
On March 1913 she was hospitalised first a Neuilly sur Seine, than later transferred to an asylum the south of France, where she was to spend the rest of her life, despite attempts of her doctors to restore her to her family and community.
She died at Montfavet in 1943 and was buried in a common grave, because no one in her family came to claim the body.
You might ask why there never was a museum designated to her magnificent sculpture in Paris? I have always found that disappointing and sad in many ways, given that her former lover and associate, who was very influenced by her works has a huge museum and grounds near the center of Paris.
If you read my post of Camille Claudel’s life, then you would perfectly understand my resentment towards Rodin, who took advantage of Camille’s love and devotion to him.
First of all, Rodin being the narcissistic person that he was, had a lot of jealousy of her talent that I feel surpasses his in finesse and detail. Secondly, was the fact that she suffered from mental illness.
Lastly, but not the least was her brother Paul’s lack of promoting his own sisters art after her death and distancing himself from her memory and art to promote himself and of course out of shame that his sister suffered from mental illness.
Camille Claudel’s own family were the most abusive, with the sole exception of her father. He was the only one that approved and encouraged her passion in the arts.
Her mother, who was disappointed in the first place that Camille was a girl, hoping instead for a boy to “replace” a previous stillborn male was the worst of all of them.
She refused all support of her financially in her sculpting; considering that she was leading an immoral life and shunned her own daughter for the rest of her life.
Even more cruel, she totally abandoned Camille, during her psychiatric confinement. She not only refused to visit her, but refused all communication and she and Paul refused to allow Camille back home, even after doctors pleaded with them to do so.
When someone commented about his sister being a genius of a sculptor, he reprimanded with a remarked saying, “I am the only genius in the family”.
Some say it was he, seen sculpted by Camille, who discouraged Rodin from setting up a room dedicated to Camille’s art.
Throughout her confinement in the psychiatric hospital, the family asked the hospital that her letters never be mailed.
Sadly, she died at the age of 78 from starvation and a stroke in a psychiatric facility in the south of France, that lacked funds during the war to feed patients.
Even more irreprehensible is the stark fact that no member of her family made an effort to extradite her from starving to the death.
It certainly wasn’t from not having the means to do so, as she was born into a well off and politically significant family at the time.
At the time of her death, her brother was the French ambassador in the US. Obviously his duties were more important than rescuing his talented sister from a dying a painful death during Nazi occupied France.
Although I am glad to see this museum was named after Camille Claudel, I left with questions to why there wasn’t more focus on her work.
I also wondered why memorabilia from her life, such as family photographs, letters,etc were not included, which would have been an excellent prelude to the pieces of her work.
Since the original museum was created by Boucher and Dubois, did their descendents have something to do with making sure that their works were included and took precedence?
Or was it the meddling of some of Paul’s unhappy descendants, who hadn’t given Camille’s art much credit, until it became famous. Jealousy has no ends in the inheritance of a famous artist.
It was the grandniece of Camille, a granddaughter of Paul, who rediscovered Camille’s work and fought for the establishment of this museum. She deserves much credit for her efforts being brought to fruition.
Reine-Marie Paris had to fight tooth and nail to maintain legal rights and control to her great aunt’s art, that she assembled and bought, after being pursued for legal definition of rights by some of her fellow relatives.
The museum can be reached by train as well, and for tourists, I would recommend spending more time in visiting Provins, as the museum can be seen in a little more than an hour and half.
There are films inside of how metal sculptures are cast and two others with art historians talking about her work. Audio guides are available in english.
I am glad that I went, but there was that chagrin not only for her tragic life, but the missed possibilities that I was hoping to find in “her” museum.
addendum: Read about all of the abuse this incredible artist endured in her life, with my post written in 2012.