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Camille Claudel and Rodin: Fateful Encounter at DIA
Camille Claudel, Vertumnus and Pomona, 1905. Marble. Paris, Musée Rodin.
Photo: Musée Rodin / Erick and Petra Hemerg.

DETROIT, MI.-Rivera and Kahlo; Pollock and Krasner; de Kooning and de Kooning – much of the popular history of 20th-century art has been told through the tumultuous pairings of brilliant artists. Now, Camille Claudel and Rodin: Fateful Encounter, a major international exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) from Oct. 9, 2005 to Feb. 5, 2006, provides the first side-by-side comparison of Camille Claudel (1864–1943) and Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), whose work helped shape the extraordinary legacy of turn-of-the-century Paris. Fateful Encounter showcases 58 sculptures by Rodin, 62 by Claudel, and select works by their contemporaries. These objects, along with rare photographs, drawings, and letters, reveal how Claudel’s and Rodin’s artistic and personal lives were intimately entwined.

The DIA is the only U.S. venue for the exhibition, which is organized by the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec in conjunction with the Musée Rodin in Paris. Fifty museums and private collectors have lent objects to the show. This is the first time the Musée Rodin has generously lent so many important works by Claudel and Rodin to America.

“The Detroit Institute of Arts focuses on presenting art—whether that of touring exhibitions or our own collections—in a context that brings the work to life,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. “Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin produced extraordinary bodies of sculpture, much of it working side by side. Fateful Encounter will place Rodin’s publicly recognized brilliance within a more intimate frame of reference, while drawing attention to Claudel’s own achievements and revealing the vital connections between the two.”

Claudel and Rodin shared a passionate relationship from the early 1880s to the late 1890s, during which they inspired and influenced each other’s work. Many of Claudel’s key works in all media are featured, including Sakuntala, The Waltz, La Petite Châtelain, The Age of Maturity, The Wave, and Vertumnus and Pomona. Among the sculptures by Rodin are Bust of Camille Claudel, Saint John the Baptist Preaching, The Gates of Hell (and important related works), The Thinker, Pierre de Wissant from The Burghers of Calais, and Balzac.

“Unlike previous exhibitions of Rodin’s and Claudel’s sculpture, Fateful Encounter features key works that best reveal the artists’ influence on and reactions to each other,” said Alan P. Darr, Walter B. Ford II Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and curator of the exhibition in Detroit. “We believe our visitors will find the incredible variety of works in Fateful Encounter and the personal romance between Claudel and Rodin of enormous appeal.”

About the artists
At the height of his career, Rodin was regarded in Europe and America as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo. His dramatic figures, often raw with emotion, pioneered modern sculpture with their emphasis on movement, expression and the evocation of the soul. Rodin was on the verge of significant success when he met Claudel in 1882. He obtained his first major state commission, The Gates of Hell, in 1880, at age 40.

When Rodin met the 18-year-old Claudel, he was struck by both her talent and beauty, and hired her as his studio assistant to work on The Gates of Hell and other projects. Claudel showed early promise as a sculptor, and was at the beginning of her career when she met Rodin. A determined, ambitious young woman, she was driven to learn everything she could from Rodin, whom she considered a genius.

Their initial student/teacher/professional relationship evolved into one of colleagues and lovers, a personal and professional bond that would strengthen, intensify, and later erode. Rodin held an abiding love for Claudel, but refused to leave his common-law wife, Rose Beuret, to marry Claudel. Her bitter resentment over this situation, along with the frustration encountered while trying to make her own name as an artist, contributed to Claudel’s deteriorating mental health. She became increasingly paranoid and manic-depressive, and at age 39 her family confined her to a mental institution, where she spent the last 30 years of her life. Rodin, who continued to support Claudel financially after their breakup, died in November 1917; Rose Beuret, his companion of more than 50 years, had died the previous February, just weeks after she and Rodin finally married.

In 1919, the Musée Rodin opened in Paris with two galleries that Rodin asked to be devoted to Claudel’s works. In 1951, the museum’s curator organized a retrospective of Claudel’s work, accompanied by a catalogue with a preface by her brother, Paul, a well-known cultural diplomat and author. Another show presenting the work of Claudel and Rodin opened at the Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland, in 1958. However, Claudel was all but forgotten until 1984, when another exhibition at the Musée Rodin reignited interest in her work, followed by a 1989 French film starring Isabelle Adjani as Claudel and Gerard Depardieu as Rodin.

About the exhibition
Camille Claudel and Rodin: Fateful Encounter is organized into three broad sections: Rodin’s and Claudel’s art prior to their meeting; work produced during their initially happy, then later stormy relationship; and each one’s sculptures after their breakup. The exhibition also highlights some of Rodin’s most renowned late masterworks, including Balzac, The Burghers of Calais, and The Thinker, through studies in a range of media developed over many years.

The first section of the exhibition features the artists’ works prior to their meeting. Rodin’s works include his emotionally charged Bellona, Saint John the Baptist Preaching (1880), and his bust of Carrier-Belleuse (1882). Claudel, by contrast, was continuing to explore modeling in clay figures and portraiture under the guidance of Alfred Boucher. One of her earliest works, The Old Hélène, is featured in this section.

When Claudel joined Rodin’s studio in 1882, she assisted on his first major state commission, The Gates of Hell. The collaborative section of the exhibition includes works by Rodin, likely assisted by Claudel, such as Ugolino and His Children (c. 1881-82), Eve (1883), and Pierre de Wissant (1886), which were integrated into The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais. Also included are three busts by Claudel and five by Rodin that they created of one another, primarily in the 1880s. Their likenesses appear again in romantic and often tortured allegorical works, such as Claudel’s plaster and clay variations of Sakountala (1888) and The Waltz (1892), and Rodin’s Eternal Idol (1889/91) and Galatea (1889), revealing their profound emotional influence on one another.

Beginning in the early 1890s Claudel’s and Rodin’s work reflects their disintegrating relationship. Disturbed by the growing distance between her and Rodin and his steady climb toward old age, Claudel created The Age of Maturity (1898), depicting a mature man growing old while “youth” desperately tries to pull him back. Swept up by the influence of art nouveau and japonisme that dominated turn-of-the-century Paris, Claudel’s sculpture became increasingly lyrical and decorative, as in The Gossips (1897) and The Wave (1897/1903). As for Rodin, Claudel’s likeness continued to haunt him and appeared repeatedly in the allegorical portraits he produced in his last years, reflecting the lifelong influence of their relationship. These include The Goodbye, The Convalescent, Study for France, and The Thought.

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