Before the Encounter
Claudel: The Beginning

In 1862, Louis-Prosper Claudel, a bureaucrat, married Louise-Athénaïse Cerveaux, the daughter of a doctor (and thus of higher social status), in Fère-en-Tardenois, in northeastern France. The couple had three children, and two of them became well known in the arts: Camille, as a sculptor, and Paul, as a writer.

The Claudels moved to Nogent-sur-Seine, about sixty miles from Paris, in 1876. Alfred Boucher, an artist from the area, noticed Camille Claudel’s precocious talent in sculpture and offered her valuable advice, training, and encouragement. Headstrong and insistent, the young girl soon imposed her ambition to be an artist on the whole family. Consequently, in 1881, Louis-Prosper Claudel relocated the family to Paris to provide Camille, Paul, and their sister, Louise, the best education possible.

In Paris, Camille Claudel found a stimulating environment, rich in art and exhibitions. She continued her lessons with Boucher, who had also moved to Paris, and she enrolled at the Académie Colarossi, one of the few art schools in Paris that admitted women.

César, Camille Claudel, 1881. Photograph, albumin print. Musée Rodin, Paris. Photo: Musée Rodin / Adagp / Béatrice Hatala

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Rodin in 1882

Rodin’s career got off to a slow start. From 1857 to 1859, he failed three times to gain admission to the prestigious École des beaux-arts, the principle school of fine arts in Paris. He earned his living as a decorative sculptor. In 1864, he entered the studio of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a fashionable, well-known sculptor for whom he modeled decorative pieces. Rodin worked on and off with Carrier-Belleuse between 1864 and 1882.

In personal practice, Rodin rebelled against the prevailing conservative style then taught by art academies. His first works were badly received because they seemed too realistic to have been modeled by hand, and critics erroneously proposed that these human figures were cast from nature. In the Paris Salon of 1877, Rodin’s Age of Bronze caused a scandal because it was wrongly accused of having been artificially cast.

Then, in 1879, a group of influential sculptors, including Alfred Boucher, Claudel’s early adviser, recommended Rodin to the Direction des beaux-arts, the French Ministry of Fine Arts. In quick succession, the French State purchased two major works, his controversial Age of Bronze in 1880 and Saint John the Baptist in 1881. At last, Rodin was achieving critical acclaim and professional success.

Auguste Rodin, Saint John the Baptist, 1880. Bronze. Rodin Museum, Philadelphia. Photo: Rodin Museum / Graydon Wood

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