Rodin has long been made out as a villain in this story, but Ayral-Clause says that’s an unfair characterization. “It was a sad thing, really. He met the woman of his life too late,” she says. “[Beuret] had been good to him, lived through poverty with him, took care of his sick father. Rodin couldn’t abandon her.”
“There were myths that were built around Camille and the ‘nasty Rodin,’” Ayral-Clause continues. “But she would have hated that. She didn’t want to be viewed as a victim.”
Eventually, it was too much. Claudel left Rodin—terminating the physical part of their relationship around 1893, and finally cutting off all communication by 1898. She continued to make work, furiously, but she struggled to get state commissions. Her sculptures, while lauded by critics, were too erotic for the mores of the time.
“Sculpting in those days meant the human figure,” Ayral-Clause explains. “So you had to be able to do that well in order to get any kind of recognition.” Simply gaining access to nude models was a battle for female artists at the time; after that “you were still expected to create a nude that was very modest. Camille refused to do that.”
Not only did she sculpt nudes; she sculpted nude couples that exuded desire. “All of this was unacceptable for many people,” says Ayral-Clause. “And that’s probably why she didn't get commissions.”
Claudel desperately wanted to translate her clay maquettes into marble. She adored the material and would sculpt and polish it herself (Rodin, on the other hand, preferred to leave that work to his assistants). But she couldn’t afford it on her own. And when she applied for government commissions to produce pieces in stone, as she did in 1892 for her sculpture La Valse (The Waltz), her works were deemed too risqué for state funding.