Camille Claudel was French sculptor best known for her bronze and marble depictions of figures in a craggy yet sensuous style. In perhaps what is her most famous sculpture, La Valse (The Waltz) (1889-1905), Claudel elegantly depicts a dancing couple’s embrace, capturing the flowing movement of both figures. “I am scared, I don’t know what is going to happen to me. What was the point of working so hard and of being talented, to be rewarded like this?” she once asked. “Never a penny, tormented all my life. It is horrible, one cannot imagine it.” Far too often, Claudel is referred to only as “Rodin’s lover”, when in fact, she was just as talented and visionary. Sadly, it wasn’t until recently that critics and the art world gave her the credit that she deserved, independent of Auguste Rodin.
Born on December 8, 1864 in Fère-en-Tardenois, France, Claudel was fascinated with stone and soil as a child, and as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi, one of the few places open to female students. Once in Paris, she studied with sculptor Alfred Boucher. The Académie Colarossi was more progressive than other arts institutions in that it not only allowed female students at the school but also permitted them to work from nude male models. At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts barred women from enrolling to study. it was through Boucher that Claudel first met Rodin and embarked on their love affair. Later, however, she broke away from Rodin’s shadow and established her own reputation, with subject matter that focused on everyday life, particularly portraits of women. She died in obscurity on October 19, 1943 in Montdevergues, France. Today, Claudel’s works are in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others.