Crouching Woman by Camille Claudel.
Photo: Getty Museum

The Getty Sheds Light on Camille Claudel’s Innovative Oeuvre with Astonishing Exhibition

The show looks to recast the work of the late French sculptor, who until recently was largely remembered for her passionate relationship with Auguste Rodin

Torso of a Crouching Woman, modeled about 1884–85, cast about 1913, by Camille Claudel. Photo: Getty Museum

“Moi-même,” answered Camille Claudel when filling out the section about her favorite painter in the Proust questionnaire in 1888. This statement of self-assertion provides context to Claudel’s new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, as well as a window into the French artist’s original thinking and formidable fierceness.

At the opening on April 1, French Ambassador to the United States Laurent Bili remarked that this show shifts the focus from Claudel as a victim to her singular artistic achievements. Until recently, her work has been perceived as derivative of Auguste Rodin’s. Their unhappy romance preceded her 30-year-long internment in a mental asylum and tragic death.

Curators Emerson Bowyer and Anne-Lise Desmas disprove the conventional narrative, presenting instead Claudel’s innovation through roughly 60 artworks, 80 percent of which are on loan from French institutions. The selection includes the Waltz, skillfully composed on a diagonal, and Vertumnus and Pomona, an astonishing composition in marble which Claudel carved herself. This was highly unusual; most of her contemporaries, including Rodin, contracted professionals to realize their models in stone. Claudel’s talent as a carver is evident: under the gleaming white surface, the hearts of the nymph and her courtier, the god of gardens, seem to palpitate.

The Waltz (Allioli), about 1900, by Camille Claudel. Photo: Getty Museum

Vertumnus and Pomona, 1905, by Camille Claudel. Photo: Getty Museum

Questions on attribution in the exhibition prove fatal to Rodin. His interpretation of another Ovidian nymph (Galatea, 1888) who is emerging from unfinished stone, appears equally sensual, although less intimate. Is it perhaps due to the lack of the artist’s direct hand, I wonder? Claudel composed the associated terracotta model (Young Girl with a Sheaf, 1887) one year prior. “Wait,” I catch myself saying aloud, “If she created the model and he did not even carve the marble himself, why is this his work?”

An installation view of Camille Claudel’s new show at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Getty Museum

The section showcasing the Getty’s recent acquisition, Torso of a Crouching Woman, crowns the argument. Exhibited alongside Claudel’s subtle and expressive variations of the theme, Rodin’s strained and contorted image of a woman, crouched in a bestial position, looks unnatural. Even though his composition came first, the emotional response which their respective works elicit is a powerful example of how their practices differ.

Overall, the exhibition celebrates the determination of a woman, cast as inferior and continuously censored for breaking the rigid social conventions of 19th century France, by highlighting her innovation, purpose, and originality. The must-see show is accompanied by an award-winning catalogue.

“Camille Claudel” is on view through July 21 at at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Cover: Crouching Woman by Camille Claudel.
Photo: Getty Museum


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