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A ll th a t h a s h a p p e n e d to m e is m ore than a

novel, It Is an epic, an Ilia d o r O dyssey, b u t It


w ould n e e d a H o m e r to re c o u n t it.
— CAMILLE CLAUDEL
Camille Claudel was only seventeen years old when she met
Auguste Rodin in 1882. She and her family had just moved to Paris
from the Champagne region where she was born so that she could
attend the Academie Colarossi. She was determined to establish
herself in Paris and earn her living as a sculptor. Her brother, Paul
(who was a little biased), wrote that she was “this superb young
woman in the full bloom of her beauty and talent.”
Camille was obsessed at an early age with the wonders and
possibilities of clay. She roped in whoever she could— siblings and
servants— to act as assistants and models. When other children
grew up to move on to other things, Camille did not. By chance, her
work attracted the notice of sculptor Alfred Boucher, who gave her
some constructive criticism of her work and encouraged the family to
move to Paris. When Boucher moved to Florence, after winning the
Grand Prix de Salon, he asked his friend Rodin to take his place in
guiding his protegee. Auguste Rodin was twenty-four years older
than Camille and was finally experiencing the success that had
eluded him for so many years of grinding poverty.
Camille was soon hired to work at Rodin’s atelier at rue
d’Universite along with her friend Jessie Lipscomb. They were the
only women, acting as chaperones for each other. Sculpture was not
for the faint of heart; it was messy, strenuous, and expensive. It was
not a pretty, feminine art like painting. It was manual labor, requiring
women to hike up their long, bustled dresses to climb ladders,
carrying heavy materials.
Rodin was immediately attracted to the vbrant young sculptor with
the wavy chestnut hair and vivid blue eyes, and he noticed her talent
as well. He was struck by her originality and her fierce ambition.
Rodin himself said about Camille, “I showed her where to find gold,
but the gold she finds is truly hers.” Camille quickly became a
source of inspiration to Rodin, his model, and his confidante. He
soon entrusted Camille with the task of modeling the hands and feet
for The B urghers of C alais. Camille’s friend and first biographer,
Mathias Morhardt, wrote that from the beginning Camille was Rodin’s
equal, not his disciple. “Right away, Rodin recognized
Mademoiselle’s prodigious gifts. Right away, he realized that she
had in her own nature, an admirable and incomparable
temperament.”
Before long Rodin fell passionately in \ove and pursued her
relentlessly. He followed her to England where she was visiting
Jessie Lipscomb, and he regularly used Jessie as a go-between
when Camille was in one of her unreceptive moods. His letters are far
from being those of a sophisticated lover; they are more like those of
atelier near her apartment on the boulevard d’ltalie that had a
romantic and mysterious past. George Sand and her lover playwright
Alfred de Musset were said to have used it for their trysts. Rodin and
Camille worked side by side every day, but at the end of each day
Rodin returned to the home that he shared with Rose. During the
summer, they holidayed together, secretly staying at the Chateau
d’lslette, in the Loire Valley.
For Rodin, their relationship was one of the great joys of his life.
Her face and body haunted his work. He modeled several of the
damned souls in The G ates of Hell on her. For Camille, it was more
complicated. In one of the few letters that remain between the two of
them, she writes a racy little love note: “I go to bed naked to make
myself believe you’re here, completely naked, but when I wake it’s