Camille Claudel

Just returning from a few wonderful days in Paris, lots of things to write about. But, in particular, one of the most touching pieces of art I’ve ever seen, Camille Claudel’s “L’Âge Mûr” (Maturity).
Although the link above is from the Musée d’Orsay, I saw it at the Musée Rodin, among a few other of her works, all excellent. But no other sculpture shows such an unabashed display of her feelings and story.
The sculpture is a group of three figures, an elder man being led away from an young woman by another, also elderly, female figure. Previously in the museum collection I had seen some busts Rodin made of Claudel, and immediately recognized her face in the younger, supplicating figure. There, laid bare, is the history of her last years before being institutionalized by her own family.
I felt a sense of embarrassment, as if I was prying into someone’s private life – which I was, in some sense. The sculpture is magnificent as art, but also a sad testimony of the tragedy that engulfed that poor, brilliant woman.
I can only imagine the agony of decades of internment in a mental institution, begging to be released, with even the staff agreeing that she should be discharged, only to be turned down by her own family, especially her mother, who, adding insult to injury, forbade visits to her.
I shudder just to imagine the suffering she endured for so long, which takes me to the second most impressive sculpture in the same museum (in my opinion, of course), Rodin’s “La Porte de l’Enfer” (The Gates of Hell).
I cannot think of another word to describe what Claudel went through than that: Hell. Not the mythological creation of ages past, but a very real, palpable, experience. We, human beings, need no help from angels or demons; we are perfectly capable of creating various hells on earth on our own…


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