Camille Claudel – Thwarted Genius

Day 215 of Colourisation Project – December 8

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, 8 December 1864, Camille Claudel was a French sculptor of significant talent. She also happened to be the muse, pupil and lover of renowned sculptor, Auguste Rodin.

And for almost a century her name was overshadowed by Rodin’s. A gifted artist in her own right she fought for recognition in a 19th century Parisian art world dominated by men. Her life and work had been undervalued until a major retrospective at the Musée Rodin in 1984, which saw her work garner a newfound appreciation and following, and finally the recognition she so deserved.

Camille Claudel

Photographer Unknown: Camille Claudel c 1883 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Her 15 year relationship with Rodin, 24 years her senior, tempestuous at best only served to wreak havoc with her already tortured soul. When it became clear that Rodin would never leave his long-time partner and the mother of his son in order to marry her, Claudel left him in 1898. By this stage she was damaged goods.

It was around this time that Claudel created some of her best sculptures although she grew increasingly reclusive and paranoid. The battle against 19th century art world prejudices coupled with the pressures of social and family condemnation led to a nervous breakdown.  Despite the odds against her she created many works of sheer beauty proving that given a chance, women could compete on equal footing to men.

Diagnosed as having schizophrenia, Claudel’s mental health was fragile. In 1907 upon completing a statue she took to it with a hammer, and other work as well. Sinking deeper into paranoia and delusion, she became an embarrassment to her family and the subject of unwanted gossip.

On the pretext of her welfare, the Claudel family had her committed to a mental institution in 1913, just a few days after the death of her father, who she was close to. She was incarcerated for the remaining 30 years of her life – in isolation and deprived of all artistic materials – at the insistence and instigation of her devoutly Catholic brother, Paul Claudel, the well known poet and diplomat.

Medical records revealed that while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. Her spirit was destroyed by those she loved the most. Despite doctors recommending her release, her mother would not allow it, claiming that she was too old to care for her daughter.

The tragedy of her life can only be imagined for she was incarcerated in a time and place that had little understanding of mental illness and its treatment. A time which deprived her of her right to work and live freely, as many men of the same creative ilk could do without question.

Camille Claudel died on 19 October 1943, her mother and sister never visited her. Paul Claudel visited her every few years. No one attended her funeral, only a few members from the hospital staff. As her body was allegedly never claimed by her family, her remains were buried in a communal grave.

Though she destroyed much of her art work, about 90 statues, sketches and drawings survive. Ironically, most of her pieces can be seen at the Musée Rodin in Paris.


“The events of my life would fill more than a novel. It would take an epic, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and a Homer to tell my story “I won’t recount it today, I don’t want to sadden you. I have fallen into an abyss. I live in a world so curious, so strange.  Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare.”

Camille Claudel to Eugène Blot, Montdevergues Asylum

This entry was posted in Art, Colorization, Colourisation, France, Photography, Women, Women in Art and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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