Signed C. Claudel
Stamped with the foundry mark Eug.Blot Paris and numbered 34
Bronze, rich brown patination
Height: 11.22" (28.5 cm)
Conceived 1898 and cast circa 1905
Born in 1864 in northern France, Camille Claudel was a French sculptor who was not fully appreciated during her lifetime, but has since become world renowned for her unique figurative works in bronze and marble. Claudel now has her own museum, the Camille Claudel Museum in Nogent-sur-Seine, and her works are considered integral to any serious collection of sculpture from this period. She is also widely known for her controversial, and ultimately tragic, love affair with Auguste Rodin, which has been highlighted by two films, Camille Claudel and Rodin, along with numerous books.
Claudel began sculpting from a young age, modelling her siblings out of clay before convincing the family cook to fire them in the oven. Her early work impressed their neighbour, sculptor Alfred Boucher, who encouraged Claudel’s family to support her artistic studies.
Moving to Paris in 1882, she began her formal studies at the Académie Colarossi, as it was one of the few institutions allowing female students at the time. Claudel was only 17 when she met Auguste Rodin at the Académie Colarossi in 1883, when the sculptor took over teaching classes from Alfred Boucher. Claudel’s work impressed Rodin immediately and she became his studio assistant two years later.
“Right away, Rodin recognized Mademoiselle’s prodigious gifts. Right away, he realized that she had in her own nature, an admirable and incomparable temperament,” wrote Claudel’s friend and first biographer, Mathias Morhardt. (Mahon, 2011. p. 156)
Camille Claudel in 1884 (aged 19)
Between 1885 and 1890, Claudel was Rodin’s muse, lover and collaborator, never allowing their affair to interrupt her duties as studio assistant. The two sculptors worked side by side often during what was one of the most extraordinary periods of creative collaboration in art history.
Their influence in each other’s creative process is evident in many of their pieces made during this time, such as Claudel’s modelling of the hands and feet on Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais and the amorous intimacy of the two figures in Claudel’s The Waltz. Brother and Sister is the only known work in which Rodin directly collaborated with Claudel, resulting in it being highly sought-after by collectors and museums alike.
Her relationship with Rodin began to dissolve around 1890, when the master sculptor refused to end his long-standing relationship with Rose Beuret for Claudel. While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely the conception date for L’Implorante, it is undeniably connected to the heartbreak Claudel started to endure in the 1890s. The artist first modelled it as part of the group L’Âge mûr in 1895, reworking it again in 1896 and this final version in 1898, which also marked the end of her association with Rodin.
Camille Claudel, L’Âge mûr (Maturity), Bronze group in three parts, c.1902, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
L’Âge mûr depicts the clothed, witch-like creature of Old Age forcing a man in his mature years to move away from Youth, a naked and beautiful female figure imploring the man to stay with arms outstretched in the hopeless attempt to hold him back. The man reaches one arm back towards her in an impotent gesture, but ultimately allows himself to be pulled forward by Old Age.
The piece is at once an allegorical representation of passing time and an emotive portrayal of the torment Claudel endured by losing Rodin. This bestows a deeply personal significance upon L’Âge mûr, in particular L’Implorante.
The beautiful sadness of the charge of L’Implorante – the lone, youthful woman begging on her knees, body stretched hopelessly toward the man abandoning her – contrasts starkly with the weathered witch guiding her love away. Yet it is youth, beauty and love that loses in the end, as the man accepts his fate, leaving her to grieve through the torment of rejection, humiliation and loneliness.
With L’Implorante, Claudel offers us a rare glimpse into a very personal and tragic moment of her life. We see Rodin’s other mistress, Rose, through Claudel’s eyes: A haggard witch whispering wants and orders into Rodin’s ear. We see Claudel as she believed herself to be: A heartbreaking figure of love lost. And we see Rodin as Claudel might’ve seen him: A strong, albeit aging man with not the heart to turn and seek out the love begging for life at his feet.
Claudel’s brother, Paul, was at once overwhelmed by the self-portrait nature of the piece, identifying the true depths of his sister’s inner turmoil.
“This young naked woman, that’s my sister! My sister Camille,” he wrote. “Imploring, humiliated, on her knees, this magnificent, proud girl, she saw herself like this.” (Ayral-Clause, 2015. p. 139)
Camille Claudel, L’Implorante, Bronze, Musée Camille-Claudel, Nogent-sur-Seine, France
The reproduction rights for L’Implorante were acquired by the founder Eugène Blot in 1900. Blot initially intended to cast the figure in an edition of 100, but only 59 were produced. The present cast is number 34. Casts number 14, 32, 19 and 52 are currently part of the Musée Rodin in France, Albert-Andre Museum in France, Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Switzerland and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, respectively.
Claudel completed a number of other significant works in her lifetime, including Sakuntala (1888), Perseus and the Gorgon (1902) and Fortune (1905). She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1913, where she remained for 30 years until her death, aged 78.
A. Rivière, B. Gaudichon & D. Ghanassia, Camille Claudel, Catalogue raisonné, Troisième édition augmentee (Paris: 2001), no. 44.9, pp. 138-144 (another cast illustrated p. 143).
A. Rivière, B. Gaudichon & D. Ghanassia, Camille Claudel, catalogue raisonné (Paris: 1996), no. 43.6b, pp. 112 & 115-117 (other casts illustrated pp. 116-117).
A. Delbée, Une Femme (Paris: 1982) (another cast illustrated).
A. Rivière, L'Interdite, Camille Claudel (Paris: 1983), no. 23, p. 76.
B. Poirot-Delpech, 'Camille Claudel, sculpteur brisé', in Le Monde (Paris: 2 July 1982) p. 19.
B. Gaudichon, "Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre sculpté, peint et gravé ...", in exh. cat., Camille Claudel (Paris: 1984), no. 20b, pp. 56-57 (another cast illustrated p. 57).
Elizabeth K. Mahon, Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women (New York: 2011), p. 156.
F. Duret-Robert, 'L'Affaire Claudel', in Connaissance des Arts, no. 523, December (Paris:1995), pp. 108-115 (another cast illustrated p. 115).
G. Bouté, Camille Claudel, Le miroir et la nuit (Paris: 1995), pp. 146, 148 (another cast illustrated pp. 151-152).
H. Asselin, 'La vie artistique: Camille Claudel sculpteur', in Extinfor, Pages de France (Paris: 1951) no. 8239, p. 3.
Odile Ayral-Clause, Camille Claudel: A Life (Lexington: 2015), p. 139.
R.-M. Paris, Camille Claudel (Paris: 1984), pp. 362-363.
R.-M. Paris & A. de la Chapelle, L'oeuvre de Camille Claudel, catalogue raisonné, nouvelle édition revue et complete (Paris: 1990), no. 43, pp. 164-166.
R.-M. Paris, Camille Claudel re-trouvée, catalogue raisonné (Paris: 2000) no.b, pp. 338-344 (another cast illustrated p. 342).
R.-M. Paris & P. Cressent, Camille Claudel, Complete Work (Paris: 2014), no. 310, p. 629 (another cast illustrated p. 628).