115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Camille Claudel: Seer, Seen, or Unseen?

Laurie Tomchak, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Recent reworkings of Camille Claudel's story show how hard it is to see her, either as a sculptor of genius or as a muse and mistress of the more famous Rodin.  An existence as an unattached but impure woman, a sculptor not only of female but of male nudes, consigned her to the madhouse. The different treatments of her life in 1988's "Camille Claudel" and 2013's "Camille Claudel 2015" try to take the focus away from her collaboration with Rodin, but the visual nature of film relies on two different treatments of nudity to depict her fate.


One of the central images in the recent film "Camille Claudel 2015" is of Claudel being bathed by personnel at the insane asylum where she spent her last years as inhabitants of the asylum look on.  Binoche's nudity has its own function, but her character only wants her privacy.  Similarly, in the 1988 film of the earlier part of her story Bruno Nytten focuses not only on her sculptures but on her role as an erotic muse to Rodin and a scandalous figure in French society.  In the more recent film she is no longer a sculptor, nor a lover, and is deprived of her freedom by her devout brother.  Was her ailment Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, or did she suffer from the fate of so many supposed madwomen, being unpartnered and thus unworthy of an autonomous form of existence?  Now that there is not only a Musée Rodin but a Musée Camille Claudel, and her works fetch higher prices than his, are we any closer to seeing Camille Claudel?