Throughout history artists have been notorious for love affairs with their models; Picasso, Klimt and Schiele to name a few. It makes sense: a young, beautiful muse posing, often naked, for a man that will observe her body for hours at a time is bound to create some form of chemistry.
This may seem like an ideal situation for some, with a great deal of Titanic-esque romantic potential, but the hot headed and volatile nature of many artists just doesn’t bode well for the long term.
A perfect example of this is the famously rocky relationship between Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel.The French sculptor Rodin diverged from traditional themes such as mythology in his work and instead celebrated individual character and physicality. He was notorious for his scandalous affairs with his models, despite having a long term and no doubt long suffering partner, Rose Beuret.
But it is hardly surprising that an artist whose work involves moulding the human form with his bare hands should also be passionate about it in reality. Rodin and Camille met in 1883 when she was only 17, an encounter that began ten years of a tempestuous and fateful relationship.
Camille and Rodin never lived together, but she resided in Paris and became his student, assisstant and muse. For a brief period they had an intense love affair fired by their common passion for sculpture. They inspired one another and her talent soared along with her love for Rodin.
Rodin’s vision for sculpture gained international acclaim and one of his most beautiful and famous pieces is ‘The Kiss’, inspired by his young mistress. However, as he rose to fame and began to be compared to Michelangelo, Camille struggled to have her work recognised, one of the drawbacks of being a woman in nineteenth century France. Competitiveness now festered in their relationship and from there on in it began to deteriorate.
A dramatic and stormy affair will always make a great movie, and Camille’s rich life story is depicted beautifully in the 1988 film Camille Claudel. Gerard Depardieu plays Rodin, who continually torments Camille (Isabelle Adjani), telling her “you search for pain, you get drunk on pain”, which slowly introduces the idea of the psychological problems that Camille began to experience in reality. Their impassioned on-screen dialogue perfectly conveys the rage, struggle, jealousy and madness that crept into their affair and overtook the passion that had once existed.
Some of Claudel’s most memorable work was produced after her relationship with Rodin had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and her sculptures became barbed and twisted. She was developing her own style and breaking away from Rodin’s influence, yet tragically losing his affections at the same time. Her initial desirability had diminished, and consumed with jealousy she created ‘l’Age Mur’, which depicts her grief as Rodin leaves her for Rose Beuret.
Camille grew increasingly psychologically disturbed and by 1906 her madness became more pronounced. She even destroyed some of her own sculptures and showed signs of paranoia, accusing Rodin of leading a conspiracy to kill her. Tragically their relationship had benefitted Rodin’s work, but led to Camille’s insanity. Eventually she was sent to an asylum where she spent the final thirty years of her life.
Madness, devestation and destruction are somewhat an inevitable result from such a volatile pairing, and it’s certainly not for everyone. But no one can deny the passion of artists, particularly Rodin: “My very dearest, down on both knees before your beautiful body which I embrace”.