Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi

by Andrada Costoiu

This is a story of creation, rejection, madness, broken heart, pursuing your dreams. This is a story of life.

Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi are three sculptors, of 19th century, each of them distinct, but also connected through their art. Claudel and Rodin were also lovers.

Camille Claudel (1864-1943): a woman genius, a broken lover, victim of her family’s betrayal

Camille was born in France, in December 1864.  She is best known as the mistress and the muse of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and I am not sure why this relationship overshadowed her remarkable talent and work. 

Photo:Camille Claudel (December 8, 1864 – October 19, 1943)

Since early childhood she loved sculpting. She went with her brother Paul Claudel (who later became a known poet, playwright, essayist of the first half of the 20th century France) digging for clay in the woods nears their house. She used to be a rebellious girl, one that wanted to pursue her dream of doing what she loved: being a sculptor. In the end her rebellious spirit was punished but you will see how as this story follows.

Right from childhood, she felt the urge to model with clay. She used to do clay figures in her family’s barn. Her father brought the sculptor Alfred Boucher to see her work and of course, he saw her potential. Boucher pursued her father to move the entire family to Paris and there Camille started studying at the Académie Colarossi. That is because the more famous École des Beaux-Arts remained exclusively for men until 1897. Yes, that is right, this academy, which is one of the most famous art schools in the world and which was founded in 1648 by Cardinal Mazarin, was a men only school.  But Académie Colarossi was forward thinking and here female artists were not only admitted, but where they were also allowed to draw from the male nudes (this was highly controversial at that time!).

In 1882 Claudel rented her own studio space in Paris, which she shared with three British sculptors Jessie Lipscomb, Amy Page, and Emily Fawcett. That is because neither of them could afford to pay the rent on their own. They were mentored by Alfred Boucher, but he had to leave Paris for Italy. He asked his friend Auguste Rodin, who by then had established a strong reputation as a sculptor, to take his place and teach this group of women.

Photo:Camille Claudel and Jessie Lipscomb

It was in 1883 when Camille met Rodin. She started working in his workshop and she became one of his pupils and also his muse and lover.

In the meantime, while her father continued to support her life choices, the rest of her family condemned her and forced her to leave the family home. This was so very sad!

Camille thrived artistically, she become recognized for her ingenuity in the portrayal of emotion and human nature. She was an innovator, working in different mediums and her creations were driven by her own individual experience.

In order, the sculptures are: La petite chatelaine, The Waltz and Sakuntala

Camille’s relationship with Rodin lasted for 10 years. These were times filled hard work, misunderstandings and disappointments on both sides. She worked with him on some of his most famous pieces, The Kiss(1882) and on The Gates of Hell (1880-1890). But after a 10 years affair, their relationship fell apart as Rodin refused to separate from Beuret and marry Camille. Rose Beuret was one of his first women assistants that became his loyal companion. They lived together for a long time and he didn’t marry her until his last year of his life!!!

Their separation marked Camille, and you can see that in her artworks. Some of them display emotional sorrow.  She continued to work and to exhibit until 1905. Some of the most famous pieces The Gossips (1897-marble, onyx, bronze), The Mature Age (1899- bronze) and Clotho (1893, plaster) evoke her sophisticated style and her ability to work with difficult materials like onyx and marble.  Below are the pictures for each, in this order.

I feel sad when I think what happened to Camille in her later life.  As she was approaching the age of fifty, just one week after the death of her father, she was committed to a mental asylum.Doctors tried to reason with Claudel’s family that she was by no means insane, but the family wanted Claudel out of their lives. For the following 30 years, she lived in isolation at the asylum of Montdevergues.  She abandoned sculpture completely. 

She died alone in 1943 at the age of 78.

Oh Camille…….

Rodin(1840-1917) : facing rejection and standing your ground

An older Rodin

Rodin did not have an easy life either.

This is a sculptor that had a huge influence on modern art, but he did not become established until he was in his 40s.

He was born in Paris and as a young boy he struggled to follow complicated lessons in his math and science courses. That is because he had an imperfect eyesight. So he started drawing, things that he saw or that he imagined.

In his young years he developed skills as an artist, and began taking formal art courses. At 17 he applied at École des Beaux-Arts, but he was denied admission.He then decided to pursue art in his own way and by the mid-1860s he’d completed what he would later describe as his first major work, “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64). This piece was rejected twice by the Paris Salon due to the realism of the portrait! 

 “Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose” (1863-64)

Talking about what is socially accepted! Talking about times, places and cultures and about how all these shape the way we think! 

His work, “The Vanquished”(1876) that was first exhibited in 1877, encountered serious accusations that sculpture appeared so realistic that it was directly molded from the body of the model!  That is because the realism of his work contrasted so much with the work of his contemporaries! 

“The Vanquished”(1876), Rodin

His originality came from his talent, he captured the body and the soul!  His style of work was also unique. Instead of copying traditional academic postures, Rodin preferred his models to move naturally around his studio, even though they were naked. He made their sketches in clay and then fine-tuned these. They the models were cast in plaster, bronze or carved from marble. 

Rodin continued to be rejected in various competitions for monuments to be erected in London and Paris, but finally the success of The Age of Bronze (a life size nude male in bronze) established his reputation as sculptor at the salons of Paris and Brussels in 1880. He was then 40 years old.

Throughout his life, Rodin  created several iconic works, including “The Gates of Hell”, The Age of Bronze,” “The Thinker,” “The Kiss” and “The Burghers of Calais.”

The Gates of Hell, were created for a museum that the city of Paris planned to build: the Museum of Decorative Arts. Although the museum was never built, Rodin worked on this sculpture for the last 37 years of his life. This sculpture is beautiful and depicts scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The original plaster is displayed at  Musée d’Orsay in Paris and 3 other original bronze casts are found at museums in Paris, Philadelphia and Tokyo.

Photo: The “Gates of Hell”, Rodin, source Creative Commons

His work his beautiful. I like that he challenged the conventional thinking and the way sculptures were produced at the time. I think it’s only through challenge that we are able to advance, so we should all strive our best to follow our individual ways of creation. 

Although at first rejected by the official academies because of his originality, Rodin became a sculptor of success.  By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo.

Brancusi(1876-1957) – a life journey from rural Romania to a world- renowned sculptor 

I am not sure how many of you, if you’re not an artist, have heard of Constantin Brancusi. He was a sculptor and his work is recognized worldwide. Just last year, Christie’s sold Brancusi’s culture “La Jeune Fille Sophistiquée” (1928/1932) for a record-breaking $71 million. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born. 

I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by his work. I walked past some of his masterpieces almost everyday, because they are displayed in the city where I was born.  

Photo by Edward Steichen of Brâncuşi’s workshop in Voulangis, FranceConstantin Brancusi(1876-1957)

Brancusi was born in 1876 in rural Romania. His father was a peasant, and if you go visit the village where he was born, they have preserved his house. The village is called Hobita. Sometimes there are artistic festivals there, in honor of his work.  

Brancusi grew up distinctly outside of the traditional Western European narrative and like Rodin, challenged the art world to reconsider what sculpture really was and what it did. 

Although for a while he was Rodin’s student, he and Rodin had different approaches.  Brancusi’s goal was to capture the essence of his subjects—which included birds in flight, a kissing couple—and render give them life in sculpture with minimal formal means.  The history has it that cubism was the creation of two artists – Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso – but let’s not forget Brancusi. He created in the Cubist style.

His tendency towards simplification made some call his work abstract. But it wasn’t abstract, it was very much alive and you can tell the story of his work by looking at it. 

I think that like any artist, it is frustrating when your work is misunderstood, because your work is your soul and your. He said: 

“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.” —Constantin Brancusi

Brancusi’s work resides at the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But his most famous pieces resides in a city in Romania, Targu Jiu. Below are the photographies of 3 monumental pieces, as taken by a very talented photographer and friend, Ionel Scaunasu. 

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The endless column is is a 98-foot-high (30 meter) column of zinc, brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine. This sculpture was commissioned by the Women’s League of Gorj to honor the soldiers who defended the city of Targu Jiu against a Germans during World War I. In the 1950s, the Romanian communist government planned to demolish the column. How appaling!!! Thankfully this plan was never executed!

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The table of silence is a circular stone table surrounded by twelve hourglass-seats, which symbolize time. The seats are not located close to the edges of the table. 

Photo credit: Ionel Scaunasu

The gate of kiss….where one can kiss their loved ones….

The gate is made of travertine and is gigantic. The pillars are decorated with a circular motif, two half-circles separated by a decorative line that runs to the ground level. Some art critics say that this motif represent eyes looking inside the gate, while others see a couple kissing in it.

These three pieces, the column, the table and the gate are arranged along an axis stretching from the floodplain of the Jiu River. During five decades of communist rule the landscape drastically changed around them. The sculptures remain emotionally charged places, there not only symbols of Brancusi’s talent but also places that encourage you to reflect about life and your purpose in it. 

I didn’t mean this to be an art lesson. But I think it turned to be one, as well as a lesson and an example of perseverance to always follow your dreams and to always do what suits you best. From small you can become big, from unknown you can become known.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

5 thoughts on “Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi

  1. I love Rodin! We went to the Rodin Museum while in Paris. I really should create a post about that. So much that can be said. As a side note, among many, I was intrigued to discover the nudes of Balzac by Rodin. It makes sense and, in a funny way, echoes, our own age of self. Bravo to Balzac and to Rodin.

    Liked by 1 person

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