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.