The Freeing of Camille
Claudel (1895–1905)
The “Sketches from Nature”

In the process of making The Age of Maturity, Claudel was trying to break free from everything Rodin represented. She began to create smaller-scale works, which she said were inspired by everyday life. She called them “sketches from nature.” In this way, Claudel attempted to remove herself from the familiar constraints of Rodin’s influence, such as constant reliance on live models and references to historical and allegorical subjects.

Claudel, however, did not exclusively draw from nature or the study of society, as her sketches have a dreamlike quality. Her women in conversation and her bathers in The Wave may be strikingly true to life, but she freed them of any reference to a given time or place.

The “sketches from nature” have nothing heroic about them. They are poems of intimacy. They are the work of a woman who is an artist seeking to assert her originality and individuality.

Camille Claudel, The Wave, 1897. Marble onyx and bronze. Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo: Musée Rodin / Adam Rzepka

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A Patron: Countess de Maigret

Camille Claudel met Countess Arthur de Maigret, who became her patron, in 1897. At the age of thirty-two, the sculptor could at last live off the proceeds of her art without the intervention of Rodin, for the countess had no connection to him.

Countess de Maigret commissioned important works from Camille: her own portrait in marble, a bust of her son Christian, the large Perseus and the Gorgon, and the marble Vertumnus and Pomona. But Claudel, ever insecure and mistrustful, was unable to maintain her loyalty. In 1905, a quarrel (the details of which are obscure) put her out of favor with her rich sponsor.

In the marbles executed for the countess, Claudel sought to fulfill the client’s expectations. Veering completely away from the art of Rodin, she put her skill and concern for expressive detail in the service of a conventional decorative sculptural production.

Camille Claudel, Perseus and the Gorgon, About 1899. Bronze. Private collection, France. Photo: Jean de Calan

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“Take this Helping Hand I Am Holding Out to You.”

Early in the 1900s, Claudel lived and worked in seclusion. She was in constant need of money. Then, she met the art dealer Eugène Blot, who soon became her agent. From 1904 to 1907, Blot produced bronze editions of more than a dozen of her sculptures, five examples of which are shown in the DIA exhibition. He organized three exhibitions of her works, in 1905, 1907, and 1908. In addition, he took steps to obtain state commissions for Claudel.

The Implorer is the first model acquired by Blot to be produced in bronze. With sixty-four copies sold in two sizes, it was the mainstay of his gallery. Only Fireside Dream outsold it.

No one contributed more to the distribution of Claudel’s work than Blot. She could not have found a more devoted ally and, to the end, she trusted him completely. “Take this helping hand I am holding out to you,” Blot wrote to her in 1932. “I have never ceased to be your friend.”

Camille Claudel, The Implorer, 1899. Bronze. Private collection, France. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

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