While I have much to learn about the inner workings of French sculptor Camille Claudel’s life, I already find, what I know thus far, absolutely heart breaking. The passages below highlight her illegitimate* confinement in mental institutions and the lack of support from friends and family alike.
Something I hope to better understand and research is:
- how her relationship with Rodin may have had detrimental affects on the latter part of her life: the 30 years in an asylum
- whether her unconventional, seemingly feminist ideology in a rigid structural society had psychological affects on her and whether those “outbursts” would parallel contemporary activists
“From 1905 on, Claudel began to act mentally deranged. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time, and acted paranoid, accusing Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her. Her brother supported Camille financially until 1906, but after his wedding in that year, followed by his return to China, she lived secluded in her workshop.
Her father, who approved of her career choice, also tried to help her and supported her financially. When he died on March 2, 1913, her mother did not inform Camille. On March 10, at the initiative of her brother, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne. The admission form read that she had been “voluntarily” committed, although her admission was signed by a doctor and her brother.
In 1914, to be safe from advancing German troops, the patients at Ville-Évrard were at first relocated to Enghien. On September 7, Camille was transferred with a number of other women to the Montdevergues Asylum at Montfavet, six kilometers from Avignon. Her certificate of admittance to Montdevergues, signed on September 22, 1914, reported that she suffered “from a systematic persecution delirium mostly based upon false interpretations and imagination.”
Some historians speculate that her brother, also an artist, felt overshadowed by her strength in art and wanted her out of the way. Records show that while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. Moreover, doctors tried to convince the family that she need not be in the institution.
For a while, the press accused her family of forcing a sculptor of genius into the asylum without good cause. Meanwhile, her mother forbade her to receive visits or even mail from anyone other than her brother. As the years wore on, the hospital staff regularly proposed to her family that Claudel be released, but her mother refused each time. Paul Claudel visited her every few years, but in conversations with friends he referred to her in the past tense. Her mother died on June 20, 1929. Only after her mother’s death, could her friend, Jessie Lipscomb, visit her.
Camille Claudel died on October 19, 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at Montfavet, without ever having received a visit from her mother or sister. Her body was interred in the cemetery of Monfavet.”
Claudel summed herself up in an Album of Confessions, dated 16 May 1888:
Your favourite virtue. I haven’t got any: they are all boring.
Your favourite quality in man. to obey his wife
Your favourite qualities in woman. to make her husband angry
Your favourite occupation. doing nothing…