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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Claudel's Abortion

An unsigned email from a reader alerted us to "an impressive exhibit of sculpture at the Detroit Institute of Art, focusing on Rodin and his relationship with Camille Claudel. The exhibit doesn't bring up the topic, but some biographers write that the relationship ended after an abortion.

For a brief, happy period, Camille Claudel (1864–1943) and Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)
had an intense love affair fired by a common passion for sculpture. Claudel was present and involved during the creation of Rodin’s masterpieces in the 1880s and early 1890s. In the progression of her training in Rodin’s studio, she soon sculpted works of remarkable character and expressive power.

Then came the storm. While Rodin’s new vision of sculpture spread over France and the world, Claudel struggled to have her work recognized in its own right. Irreconcilable artistic and personal differences developed. Their love dwindled. As Rodin’s skill and reputation grew, he was recognized as an artistic genius. He was often compared with the Italian master Michelangelo, as each was the most famous artist of his time. Meanwhile, Claudel withdrew and struggled with psychological problems, which caused her to be institutionalized for the last three decades of her life.
Wikipedia, the subjective, sometimes-ersatz online source, says,
"As a consequence, she left the family house. In 1892, perhaps after an unwanted abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin..."
Actually, the exhibit's website does mention the abortion elsewhere:
"1892: Professional and personal relations between Claudel and Rodin loosen. Rodin continues to help her financially. Claudel sends Rodin sarcastic drawings in which she depicts him as subservient to an old and ugly Rose Beuret. In the summer, Claudel stays on her own at Château de l’Islette in Touraine, possibly recovering from an abortion she had between 1890 and 1893."
On this page:
By 1893, Claudel and Rodin were no longer working together or seeing each other. Frightened off by the younger woman’s demands for commitment, Rodin kept his distance.
Did the sarcastic drawings begin after the unwanted abortion? Did Rodin pressure her to have it in the first place? Are the drawings a bit of passive-aggressive behavior on Claudel's part? Was his financial help a result of his feeling guilty in any way? Was she wanting commitment from him in return for having the abortion he wanted? Had he promised or implied that he'd be committed to her if she underwent it? We don't really know any of these answers. But he likely wasn't the first boyfriend to leave his lover after she had the abortion he wanted.

The Exhibit's website goes on:
1895: Claudel and Rodin see each other again. Rodin continues to help her socially and financially. Haunted by Claudel’s face, Rodin sculpts a series of allegorical portraits of her.

1896: Claudel asks Mathias Morhardt to persuade Rodin to no longer visit her, so that she cannot be accused of owing the success of her works to him.
1905: Claudel’s correspondence shows her increasing paranoia concerning Rodin.
1909: When he visits his sister, Paul Claudel is devastated by the change in her: "In Paris Camille crazy, Wallpaper pulled off in long shreds, armchair broken and torn, horrible filthiness. She, enormous and dirty, incessantly speaking in a metallic monotone."

1913: Claudel is committed to the asylum at Ville-Évrard. Raking over her old obsessions, she accuses Rodin of having had her committed so as to get his hands on her works.

1914: Despite her family’s opposition, Rodin continues to send money to Claudel: "I would like you to see to it that Mademoiselle Claudel’s lot is softened until she gets out of this Gehenna." – Rodin to Mathias Morhardt. Due to the war, Camille is transferred to the asylum at Montdevergues in the Vaucluse.

1943: Claudel dies October 19 at age 78, at Montdevergues.
Interesting choice of words. Very Biblical of Rodin to refer to Claudel's hell as "Gehenna."

A little historical digression here explains why this is significant: Jesus Christ likened hell to "Gehenna." The common (mis)perception is that if we "go to hell," we go to an actual, eternally-burning fiery pit. Christ was using metaphoric language. Gehenna was the literal name for a massive, toxic, garbage dump in that time and place, one that was being burned, literally. Since it was always so full, it was constantly on fire: a huge waste heap on fire, with gasses steaming off it in clouds constantly. It was a parable so that the folks of his time—uneducated, simple, farm, slave and laborer folk—could understand that hell was clearly not desirable.

The Detroit News runs this timeline:
1892: Rodin helps Claudel financially. Speculation is that she had an abortion.

1899: Claudel becomes a recluse.

1909: Paul Claudel is devastated by the change in his sister, who is consumed by paranoia, believing Rodin is her enemy.

1913: The Claudel family places Camille in a mental asylum, where she spends the last 30 years of her life.

From "Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter" catalog and Detroit News staff
The Booklist review of Camille Claudel : A Life ,
by Odile Ayral-Clause reads:
Claudel became [Rodin's] "most trusted assistant," muse, and lover and created her own unquestionably original work until, forced to acknowledge Rodin's divided loyalties, shaken by an abortion, and determined to be accepted as an artist in her own right, she decided to go it alone. Her profoundly sensual sculptures were controversial, her earnings scant; prolonged hardship and isolation eroded her mental health. Claudel's mother abruptly committed her to an asylum and forbade contact with the outside world, and there she remained for 30 years. [emphasis this author's]
Just imagine being an artist, a talented sculptor, and being prevented from creating your art for the last thirty years of your life.

She was in a mental asylum for thirty years, but quite possibly tortured by her abortion for at least 20 to 23 years prior. I can only imagine how truly alone and abandoned she must have felt.

Thanks to "hammerkg" for sending this alert.

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