Tuesday, February 10, 2015

There is always something absent...

The other day researching something about Rodin
I got sidetracked by Camille Claudel. She'd seemed to disappear in history.
Truth to tell she fascinated me more. Camille was a sculptress, Rodin's student, muse, lover and then spurned lover. Or she left him, it depends on which accounts one reads.
Her brother the poet Paul Claudel seems the real villain in her life.
Though the papers say she 'voluntarily committed' herself, only Paul Claudel and the doctor's signature are on the admitting records of a mental asylum in the north at the beginning of WW1. She'd become paranoid, was diagnosed as schizophrenic.  As WWI was fought in nearby battlefields, the authorities moved Camille and the other inmates down South near Avignon.
 Rodin never visited Camille.  Nor did Camille's mother. Her brother Paul forbade anyone to write her but himself. On Rodin's death bed, one account says Rodin asked for his wife, the long suffering Rose Bueret, his mistress and housekeeper who he'd finally married. When Rose appeared Rodin said 'no, the other one.' Which many take to mean Camille Claudel. Camille's mother died, her brother visited her maybe three times.
Numerous accounts from the asylum staff over the years say repeatedly Camille was no danger to herself, or others and suitable for discharge. But for Paul Claudel, it was easier and cheaper to keep a high strung, individualistic sister who made social gaffes out of the way. Then the Germans invaded again, occupied France and another war had come. Camille Claudel had been committed in 1913 before the first war and lived to see through most of the second World War. 
After thirty years in the asylum she died in 1943 in Montdevergues Asylum outside Avignon. No family came and she was buried in a communal grave.
This stunned me. I had no clue that Camille lived that long. What a sad loss. I tried to imagine if she'd been released and the art she would have created. It seems amazing she lived and no one else took up her cause for release. How she'd been forgotten for so long.
But on Ile St. Louis in Paris in a courtyard there is this plaque in front of what had once been Camille's atelier where she lived and worked. In her time the atelier - on the ground floor - would have cheap, damp, freezing in the winter, next to the horses and by the carriage house. Now it's expensive, chic and home to the elite. Camille lived her until she was committed.
At the bottom it reads: there is always something absent that torments me.
I wish Camille had gotten a chance in her life behind walls to find it.
But at least she's remembered.

Cara - Tuesday


  1. How sad. Another example of how asylums used to be used as a way to get unpleasant relatives "out of the way." Lucky for me that's not an available solution today...

    1. Don't be too sure EvKa.You shouldn't turn your back to your relatives quite yet! :)

  2. There's a film with Juliet Binoche playing Camille set during 3 days in 1915 in the asylum - haven't seen it yet.

  3. A desperately sad state of affairs, Cara, and the fate of many women during the twentieth century. I recall a documentary some years ago about women who had spent their entire lives in mental institutions. Their crime? Being raped as young girls and having the misfortune to fall pregnant.

    And considering how prevalent all kinds of mental illnesses are in today's society, perhaps we should learn to treat those who suffer from it with more compassion and understanding.

  4. What a story, Cara. It shook loose a memory I've carried with me for more than 40 years about a free-spirited, artistic woman subjected to similar travails in the US. I wracked the old brain until the source of it all came to me: "Frances" (1982), starring Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer.