Camille Claudel – The Abandonment (1905)

“Have pity, cruel girl, I can’t go on, I can’t spend another day without seeing you. Otherwise the atrocious madness. It is over, I don’t work anymore, malevolent goddess, and yet I love furiously. My Camille be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you. … Ah! Divine beauty, flower who speaks and loves, intelligent flower, my darling. My dear one, I am on my knees facing your beautiful body which I embrace.”

–   Auguste Rodin in a letter to Camille Claudel, 1886


She was his confidante, mistress, model, collaborator and favorite pupil. He was her mentor and the only man she ever loved. The tempestuous relationship between the French sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel lasted for almost a decade before it ended in dramatic fashion.

They met when she joined Rodin’s atelier in Paris. Claudel soon climbed the ranks, becoming Rodin’s first assistant but the two also fell in love, in spite of their 24 year age difference. Rodin, tied to his longtime partner Rose Beuret, couldn’t just leave Beuret to be with his new found love. Tears, quarrels, dramatic promises and short separations ensued. In light of the scandal, Claudel was cut off by her family and became financially dependent on Rodin. In fact, her whole future was attached to him. Professionally, she was stuck in his shadow and her work was always compared to his. Personally, she couldn’t break away from the toxic love triangle.

If this were a movie, Claudel deciding to leave Rodin and to become fully independent would have been the climactic moment that led to her establishment as a great artist. In reality, after cutting ties with Rodin her whole life fell apart. She struggled to find work and get commissions, despite Rodin’s referrals and attempts to send clients her way. Claudel’s art was deemed too sexual for a woman and too reminiscent of her mentor’s.

They both made similar sculptures and in those instances we do not know who was the originator. This creative osmosis between them took its toll on Claudel. She soon developed paranoia and started destroying her own works, afraid that Rodin and his friends were after her ideas. Eventually, she was locked away in an asylum where she spent the rest of her life, never sculpting again.

Camille Claudel - The Abandonment
Camille Claudel – The Abandonment (1905), bronze

With The Abandonment (L’Abandon), Claudel was the first of the pair to imagine the erotic moment of two lovers reuniting. She had been inspired by an Indian legend in which the heroine, Shakuntala, was separated from her husband due to a dark spell. Claudel’s sculpture, conceived in terracotta in 1886 and cast in bronze in 1905, captures the ending of the story, with the couple finally reunited and tenderly embracing. It is a chaste re-encounter revealing the moment before desire fully takes over. Rodin’s Eternal Idol (1890 – 1893), on the other hand, is calmer but more erotically charged, blurring the lines between love, desire and a religious-like devotion.

Both sculptures are mementos of the deep love the French couple once shared. Unfortunately, Claudel never broke away from her mentor’s shadow but the small number of art pieces that remain stand as a testament to her own individual talent.


22 thoughts on “Camille Claudel – The Abandonment (1905)

  1. Small number of her pieces that remain…
    How differently the above can be interpreted.
    I might be biased, but I really love your writing and explanation of the Subject. Another stirring story, so well captured Gabriela.
    The art work carries the pain, fear and joy of having been left in the abyss of despair yet, clinging to hope of finding love once again.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I see now. I guess they’re probably one and the same, since artists pour themselves into their works. And the destruction of her art coincided with her own self-destruction. It’s a tragic story.

          I read the summary, yes.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maverick. I have mixed feelings about this post, since I reduced her whole life and work to her relationship with Rodin. But I saw no other way around it and it’s such a fascinating story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You captured the essence well, passion is what she was known for in her art and life. There were also some that didn’t think she was crazy and tried to get her released from the asylum. Perhaps as Louise Bourgeois said, “art is a guaranty of sanity.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That tree stump support thing is a tad unfortunate and reminds me of why I never really went in for making sculpture. A sculpture needs support and ends up being an object in an environment not of the artist’s choosing, whereas a painting is a window into the artist’s universe. It does seem very well done, and I’d like to see their faces closer.

    I find the stories of artist couples very interesting, and I’m probably going to side with feminists here that the history is not favoring the female partner (think Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta). Had Camille been able to continue working, who knows whose work would be superior. I really prefer Frida’s paintings to Diego Rivera’s. Also Kay Sage worked very similarly to her husband, the more famous Yves Tanguy, but she definitely instills content in her paintings that you don’t find in his.

    I think we’ve come along enough as a species, so to speak, that this subordinating of the female partner shouldn’t continue. I rather don’t think people have a problem, for example, with women expressing eroticism anymore, if Instagram is any indication.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think Claudel would have lost the battle even if she had been a man, considering she was being compared to someone twice her age, with far more experience. Their biggest mistake was that they decided to copy one another – each redoing the other’s version – so it’s impossible to talk about her sculptures without mentioning Rodin.

      I’m sure far more people know about Frida today than about Diego. Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy, hmm, I didn’t know they were a couple. I prefer her works!

      That’s an interesting idea, I don’t think Instagram selfies capture the (potential) eroticism of female art. I would like to see female artists explore this more and without turning it into a political statement of oppression and whatnot. Sex as biology, not as empowerment.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha, I thought you only had a soft spot for Amy Sherald. 😉 Loved the tribute. It’s fascinating to compare her defiant gaze during her youth with her diminished old self.

          I see what you meant about Instagram. Kristen’s stuff is great, very colorful and pop artsy. I don’t really like the emojis though.


    1. I haven’t seen the movie, actually. I would, if it didn’t have Depardieu starring in it. 😉 I should change that to “if this were a Hollywood movie/script”… as those movies are generally banking on a happy ending and they love showing underdogs beating all odds.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand resistance to seeing Depardieu’s work – Adjani is wonderful in the film, maybe that could make up for it? 😉 The very end of Camille Claudel is probably the most heartbreaking scene in cinema, ever. I have been a devotee of Claudel ever since seeing the film.

    Liked by 1 person

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