Description
Camille CLAUDEL (1864 - 1943)
Torso of a Crouching Woman, 1887

Bronze proof
H. 35, W. 21, D. 19 cm
H. 13,8, W. 8,3, D. 7,5 in

Provenance:

Paul Claudel, by inheritance

Literature:

- Morhardt, Mathias, “Melle Camille Claudel,” Mercure de France, n°99, March 1898, p.709-755. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k1051098/f716.image
- Claudel, Paul, “Camille Claudel statuaire”, L’Art Décoratif, July 1913, p.15, repr. (plaster).
- Camille Claudel. December 1864-October 1943, Paris, musée Rodin, November-December 1951(plaster?).
- Le Corps en morceaux (The Body in Pieces), Paris, Musée d’Orsay, 1990, p.278, p.139, repr (bronze).
- Rivière, Anne, Gaudichon, Bruno, Ghanassia, Danielle, Camille Claude. Catalogue raisonné, 3rd edition, enlarged, Adam Biro, 2001, n°14.3, p.71, repr. (plaster and bronze).
- Camille Claudel (1864-1943), Madrid, Fundacion Mapfre, November 7, 2007 – January 13, 2008 ; Paris, musée Rodin, April 15 – July 20, 2008, Paris, Gallimard, 2008, p.188-189, cat.19, repr. (bronze).

Exhibitions:

- Camille Claudel. December 1864-October 1943, Paris, musée Rodin, November-December 1951(plaster?).
- Le Corps en morceaux (The Body in Pieces), Paris, Musée d’Orsay, February 5 – June 3, 1990 (bronze).
- Camille Claudel (1864-1943), Madrid, Fundacion Mapfre, November 7, 2007 – January 13, 2008; Paris, musée Rodin, April 15 – July 20, 2008 (bronze).

Description:

“I showed her where to find gold
but the gold she found is entirely her own.”

Rodin

 

I. The Genesis of the Work
According to Mathias Morhardt, the Torso of a Crouching Woman is the first work that Camille Claudel modeled in Rodin’s studio.
The Claudel family moved to Paris is 1881, and Camille, who’d been sculpting since the age of 12, entered the Colarossi academy in the rue de la Grande Chaumière. The following year, she shared a studio with friends at 117 rue Notre-Dame des Champs. The sculptor Alfred Boucher, who had been her instructor from the beginning, came regularly to critique the young women’s work. He introduced Camille to Paul Dubois, the director of the École des Beaux-Arts, who saw her work and exclaimed: “You’ve taken lessons from Monsieur Rodin!” However, Camille had not yet even met Rodin, who was just coming into prominence. She finally met him in 1883, when Boucher asked him to take on his students. Camille went to work in Rodin’s studio as an assistant in 1884 or 1885, when he was working on The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais. She soon became both his lover and his principal collaborator. He consulted her on everything, and took her opinion seriously. The two artists both inspired and influenced each other, and her work throughout this period naturally reflects this.
This is the context in which Camille Claudel created the Crouching Woman, which Mathias Morhardt[1] describes in his biography of Claudel (the first one written) in 1898. However, his description is of the complete version whereas our Torso of a Crouching Woman is mutilated and, in fact, comes from a “Study of a Nude that shows a young woman crouching down on her heels, her back in a circular arc and her head leaning on her right arm, which is, in turn, leaning on her knee. The left arm is raised above her head, and her two hands are joined in a simple and harmonious gesture in front of her right knee.”[2]
This “admirable nude”[3] was shown in 1885 at the Salon des Artistes Français.[4] The plaster was then acquired by the Romanian doctor and collector Alexandre Slatineanu[5] and, is now in the Musée Camille Claudel of Nogent-sur-Seine. This complete model reappeared only recently, during the exhibition In prajma lui Rodin at the National Museum of Art in Bucharest in 1996. It was identified through the reproduction of the Torso of a Crouching Woman—which is to say, the mutilated version—in the exhibition catalogue for The Body in Pieces at the Musée d’Orsay in 1990.

Camille Claudel’s Crouching Woman was probably inspired by Rodin’s 1881-1882 terra cotta Crouching Woman[6],of which she owned a proof.[7] She also regularly made sketches of the models in Rodin’s studio; And for Giganti, she worked with one of Rodin’s models. Rodin’s influence is particularly strong in this model, both in its subject matter and style, with its expressionist finish to the musculature, the romantic subject, and the contorted pose, all typical of Rodin. Other works of the same period also show Rodin’s influence over Claudel, such as Man Leaning Over (1886). Here, the fragmentary nature of this torso is another element suggestive of Rodin.

 

II. Like a Small Fragment from Antiquity
On several occasions, Rodin reused elements of existing works to make partial figures. At the Pavillon de l’Alma in 1900, he showed a version of Pierre de Wissant (one of the Burghers of Calais) without its head and hands, and around the same time, he made his famous Walking Man, which is also missing its head and arms. It was created from a study for the legs of Saint John the Baptist and a torso. The master was particularly aware of the evocative power of sculptural fragments from antiquity, which he collected; Michelangelo’s “non finito,” which he greatly admired, was also an inspiration for his “unfinished” figures. As for Camille Claudel’s Torso of a Crouching Woman, it is the result of a radical removal of the head, arms, and left knee, strongly evoking sculptural fragments from antiquity, which often show the ravages of time, such as the Crouching Aphrodite in the Louvre[8]. Reduced to its essentials, the suggested form reveals its maximum expressive power. The severe mutilation of the figure also suggests violence, and some have seen this work as a reflection of the destructive relationship between Claudel and Rodin.
Several questions about this mutilated version of The Crouching Woman remain unanswered, including its date and the context of its mutilation.
It’s hard to establish exactly when Camille Claudel made these changes to the finished model. The first known illustration of the work appears in 1913 in a richly illustrated and important article by Paul Claudel titled “Camille Claudel Statuary,”[9] which was published in l’Art Décoratif several months after the artist was institutionalized. This publication firmly establishes the fact that the work was created before that date, and in this article, he gives its date as 1887. And yet the catalogue raisonné claims that it was done after 1898, based on the fact that Morhardt, in his very thorough article in the Mercure de France, describes only the complete version. We have decided to go with the 1887 date, based on the photograph of the work in l’Art Décoratif, which puts it in the context of the artist’s life with Rodin, both personally and artistically. Camille Claudel produced another partial figure in 1888, Torso of a Standing Woman, which is also like a small antique work, and is similar in its dimensions to Torso of a Crouching Woman.
Some have interpreted this mutilated version as evidence of an act of destructive madness. From 1892 on, Claudel became progressively more estranged from Rodin; the definitive rupture in 1898 was devastating for her and marked the beginning of a period that was both destructive and transformative for her work. Various people who knew her at the time remarked that she had an intense need not only to create, but also to destroy. However, this view seems reductive and doesn’t hold up in the face of the work, which displays modifications or mutilations carried out with precision and forethought.
Whatever may have been the case, Camille Claudel kept only the mutilated version in her studio, and it is this version that is considered the definitive one, while the complete version is, as Morhardt claims, a “Nude Study.”

The reworking of the piece effectively changed its subject matter. From a Crouching Woman it became a Torso of a Crouching Woman, thus the subject became the human back. With its circular arc, the back, revealed in all its integrity, presents a splendid study of anatomy, and, in fact, the photograph reproduced in the 1913 article shows the back as the principal view. Across the large, curved surface, a muscular landscape emanates vibrant life while the lines of the mold, left visible, underscore its strong architecture: “it’s clearly an architectural creation, and clearly a human animal.”[10]

 

III A Figure Folded in on Itself
“In this torso of a crouching woman, for example (a striking piece, worthy of the Renaissance), I see an animal instinct that folds in on itself to escape capture, blinding itself to be invisible, someone who seeks within for refuge from danger, and not only from the past, but also from the present.”[11] This instinctive position reveals a human being under threat, but what is the danger? Should we see Claudel’s own suffering to find her place next to Rodin? Did she have premonitions of the suffering that the relationship would ultimately cause her? The movement of the piece focuses on the perfectly mastered balance of the body. The weight rests firmly on the feet, which are in turn firmly anchored to the ground, especially as it is not on a flat base.[12] And we can see, in the tension of the compacted silhouette, the instant that will follow, in which the body will express its grief in a gesture sweeping up toward the sky, such as that of the figure The Imploring Woman, which was part of the dramatic group titled Maturity, which she did a few years later. The evocative power of this supple, torqued body is tremendous, and the artist uses it lyrically to express a drama as it unfolds. At around the same time, Claudel created another crouching figure titled Man Leaning Over (1886).

Particularly expressive, the crouching posture appears frequently in early 20th century sculpture. The intensified form that it implies suggests the block from which the figure emerged, inherited from Michelangelo’s notion that the artist’s idea was locked inside of a block of marble. Sculpture gradually evolved from the exclusively monumental to a more and more personal art, a reflection of the artist’s internal life that now had a place in private homes. The figure folded in on itself expresses introspective meditation, suffering, and the solitude of the individual faced with him or herself. Other examples of this include Charles Malfray’s Silence (1916-1918), created during the war, and Maillol’s The Mediterranean (1901). However, in the Torso of a Crouching Woman, the folded form has a rare intensity, and, as her brother underscored, “Camille Claudel is the primary artist of such internal sculpture.”[13]

 

IV An Autobiographical and Personal Work
“. . . a work by Camille Claudel in the atmosphere of an apartment is, by its form alone, like the singular rocks collected by Chinese connoisseurs—a kind of monument to internal thought . . .”[14] Paul Claudel saw his sister’s work as her autobiography, and he saw it taking the shape of her life’s sad story. In the complete version of Crouching Woman, the face bears the artist’s features. Her attentive brother, her admiring biographer, Mathias Morhardt, and everyone else who saw and who still truly sees the work of Camille Claudel have seen how personal her sculptures are, and how different they are, in this way, from Rodin’s. Though they worked together and their genius found a common expression, the spirit of their works—their emanations and the emotions that they incarnate—are fundamentally different.

Camille Claudel’s sculptures bear the mark of a spirited and exacting personality: “It’s life itself, life exalted to its highest lyrical power that comes through her hands.”[15] By comparison, Rodin’s figures are calm, and the modeling is delicate and soft. “More vehement, Mademoiselle Claudel captures vigorous contrasts and dramatic, immediate moments, with no transition between shadow and light. Her figures are never completely under her control in the round. [. . .] Her modeling echoes her spirit; it is powerful, determined, and passionate. Far from going from one plane to another in infinitesimal gradations, like Rodin, she forcefully shows the planes, delineates the masses, and underscores the shadows.”[16] And while her Crouching Woman expresses dramatic suffering, Rodin’s subject is animal sensuality. “The spirit” that emanated from Claudel’s work, mentioned by her brother, was certainly in part based in her feminine sensibility. Given that, her art is necessarily different from Rodin’s.

 

V A Work Exceptional for its Rarity
This bronze proof is extremely rare; it is one of only two examples of this model, and is the only one in private hands. The other example is in the Museum of Art and Industry in Roubaix.[17] Like the example presented here, this one is also not signed and does not have a founder's mark. Both came from the Paul Claudel collection, which was then handed down through his family.
The two bronzes were very likely commissioned around 1913 by Philippe Berthelot,[18] a close of Paul Claudel,[19] who owned the plaster. That original plaster, which was shown in the Camille Claudel exhibition held at the Rodin Museum in 1951,[20] has disappeared.
The two bronzes were probably cast by Frédéric Carvillani, “a Roman who specialized in lost wax casting who came to Paris around 1905 and started a foundry in the rue du Départ in 1907.”[21] He also cast a large bronze of Camille Claudel’sMaturity.

This Torso of a Crouching Woman is a rare example of Camille Claudel’s genius. It perfectly displays the double dynamic that underscores the artist’s work of this period—a strong similarity to Rodin and a rich, spirited personality trying to express itself.

 

[1]Mathias Morhardt, poet, playwright, and editor of the journal Le Temps, met Rodin around 1888 and Camille Claudel around 1896 (?) He wrote a long article on the artist in March 1898 for Le Mercure de France.
[2]Morhardt, 1898, p.732.
[3]Ibid.
[4]At the Salon of 1885, she showed a terra cotta, The Old Helen, also called The Old Woman, and the study of a nude in which a young woman crouches down on her heels, the back in a circular arc, and her head leaning on her right arm [. . .] » in Cassar, Jacques, Dossier Camille Claudel, Paris, Librairie Séguier, 1987, p.64.
[5]He is probably behind the bronze cast made in Bucharest between 1920 and 1930.
[6]Rodin’s Crouching Woman was one of the figures modeled for The Gates of Hell.
[7]Shown in 1896 at the Rath Museum in Geneva. The exhibition catalogue states that the Crouching Woman belongs to Camille Claudel. cf Catalogue de l’exposition au musée Rath d’œuvres de MM. Puvis de Chavannes, Auguste Rodin, Eugène Carrière, Genève, 1896, n°106.
[8]Aphrodite accroupie (Crouching Aphrodite), Roman, Imperial era, 1st to 2nd century CE, H: 96 cm, musée du Louvre (Inv.Ma2240).
[9]This text by Paul Claudel had also been published in1905 in l’Occident.
[10]Claudel, Paul, extract of a text titled “Camille Claudel” which was printed in the catalogue of the exhibition Camille Claudel at the musée Rodin in 1951.
[11]Ibid.
[12]In the earlier complete version, the Crouching Woman is on a flat base.
[13]Claudel, Paul, 1913.
[14]Ibid.
[15]Morhardt, 1898, p.733.
[16]Op.cit., p.739.
[17]Inv. 2007-14-1. Purchased by the museum through public subscription in 2007 with the aid of the Society of the Friends of the Museum, the DMF (patrimonial funds), the Region (Regional funds for museum purchases), and various private donors.
[18]Philippe Berthelot (1866-1934), was a diplomat and a leading figure at the Quai d’Orsay at the beginning of the 20th century. He met Paul Claudel while he was living in Fou-Tchéou, China between 1900 and 1905.
[19]On March 10, 1913, Camille Claudel was committed to the Ville-Evrard asylum. On April 16, a family counsel was established to take care of her estate. Paul, who was posted in Germany at the time, asked his friend Philippe Berthelot to empty out Camille’s apartment on the quai Bourbon. The diplomat took charge of her works, most of them in plaster, storing them at his house.
[20]The exhibition catalogue states that the work belonged to Madame Philippe Berthelot.
[21]Lebon, Elisabeth, Dictionnaire des fondeurs de bronze d’art (Dictionary of Art Bronze Founders), France 1890-1950, Marjon, 2003, p.131-132.