It’s almost impossible to hear anything about Camille Claudel without a mention of Auguste Rodin in the same breath. I’d never heard her name until reading Annie’s work. In all honesty, I’d never heard of most of the women who are characters in The Artists’ Women— all of whom experienced all-too-close encounters with some of the world’s most renowned art and artists. Why not? We’ve all seen their faces and bodies mounted on the walls of museums, but who were they?
Camille Claudel was a bright and feisty girl who, in contrast to the Victorian values of those around her, insisted upon harboring her right to an opinion and a voice. She never considered a career other than one as a sculptor, which, as a woman in 1880s France, was a brave and radical choice. Most importantly, she was a brilliant sculptor, both before and after she began to study with Auguste Rodin, and both before and after they had a tumultuous affair.
Still I find myself introducing my character to those who have never heard of her as “Rodin’s mistress”, because his name is the recognizable one. Do we care more about the things that happened in the dark between this girl and her famous lover than we do about her genius and her work?
It is unknown how exactly Camille’s life took such a dark turn. It is unknown exactly why she was taken away to an asylum, and it is certainly unknown why she was unjustly kept in an institution until her death almost thirty years after her committal. We’ll likely never know. Is it some sort of threatening anomaly to be a woman and an artist and a lover all at once? Is it possible to have your own creative muse when you are acting as one for someone else?
Camille’s story is one that deserves to be told, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the telling.