Identity Exposed

Camille Claudel, Young Girl with a Sheaf, c. 1890, bronze, 35.9 X 17.8 X 19 cm. Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

When I stand before a piece of art, I try to imagine myself as of one of the figures in the work. I dream up a world in which the painted or sculpted figure would have lived. As the girl in Camille Claudel’s Young Girl with a Sheaf, I feel discomfort and unease. I feel bare, nervous, and even ashamed, as if my secrets, desires, and hopes are unveiled before a crowded audience hall. Sculpted by Claudel (French, 1864–1943) at the end of the nineteenth century, the figure sits before the viewer naked and vulnerable. The smooth contours of the girl’s body do not suggest erotic undercurrents but rather feelings of embarrassment and timidity. Tension ripples beneath the girl’s skin, creating an awkward mood of reservation, while the rigidity and coarseness of the base adds to her apprehensiveness. Claudel skillfully infused emotions into her sculpture.

Created in the shadow of Auguste Rodin’s renown, Claudel’s works have only recently been rediscovered and exposed for their own artistic merit. Claudel not only worked as an assistant and model for Rodin but she also had a passionate love affair with him, causing her artistic talent to be overlooked by her personal life. However scholars have identified Claudel’s hand in some works by Rodin, which suggests a more extensive artistic collaboration between the two sculptors. This revelation begs the question: where did the work of Rodin end and where did that of Claudel begin?

Come see Young Girl with a Sheaf in NMWA’s collection galleries. Do you get the same feeling of uneasiness as I do?

About the Author- Breezy Diether is currently an education intern at NMWA.

0 thoughts on “Identity Exposed

  1. Not only that her work hasn’t been ‘discovered’ until late due to engaged artists in the womens movement. Camille Claudel had to stay in a madhouse for over 30 years because she was uncomfortable and Rodin did NOTHING to help her. It may be suggested that he didnt like her competition as an artist.
    Camille Claudel: A Life by Odile Ayral-Clause and
    Camille: The Life of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s Muse and Mistress by Reine-Marie Paris
    I think it is important to realize under what circumstances women worked and what happened to them. My question was why is there only little of her work. Now, the 30 years iimprisoned is the answer…

  2. The answer to your question as to why there is little of her work around is that she, herself, destroyed most of her art after 1905 and, it should also be noted, that, while she exhibited signs of paranoia, she did accuse Rodin of stealing her ideas. As for her “commitment”, whether or not Rodin could have helps was most probably out of his control as the responsibility for her well-being fell to family. It could be that Rodin played a part in keeping her confined but it was her brother, Paul Claudel, that committed his sister to a mental hospital. What shows in the record is tha several times doctors had asked the family to re-intergrate back into society and each time the mother and brother refused. That is the real question: Why would they voluntarily keep her confined? There is where your suggestion that Rodin “didnt like her competition as an artist” can be seen as an interveniung factor if he was paying the family to keep her locked up.

  3. I love the few works i’ve seen of camille Claudel it’s a great tragedy she was cruelly incarcerated by her philistine family, who saw her as morally depraved. Rodin used her and abandoned her to his shame.