Monday, September 01, 2008


In 1886, Camille Claudel dictated a contract for her lover to sign. Claudel was only a young art student but her lover, the great sculptor Rodin, obediently wrote down every word:
In the future starting from this day of October 12, 1886, I will have as my Student only Mademoiselle Camille Claudel, who will be my sole protege.... I will accept no other students to avoid producing, by chance, rival talents, although I suppose that such naturally gifted artists occur very rarely.... Under no excuse will I ever go to visit Madame X again, to whom I will no longer teach sculpture. After the exhibition in May we will leave for Italy, remaining there at least six months together in indissoluble union after which Mademoiselle Camille will be my wife.
-- A. Rodin
Camille's contract doesn't specify what Rodin received in exchange, but his letters made it pretty darn clear:
I only had to meet you for everything to take on unknown life, for my gray existence to flare up in a bonfire. Thank you, for its to you that I owe the entire measure of heaven that I’ve had in this life.… My dearest, down on both knees I embrace your fair body.
Rodin met Camille when he was 42 and living with his long term companion, Rose Beuret. Rose was a seamstress who shared none of his friends or interests, but she took care of his daily needs and provided him with order and stability.

Camille took a job as Rodin's apprentice but critics agree she was so talented that she soon became a major influence on his art. The two worked side by side, creating beautiful and sensuous objects:

When the time was right, Camille disrobed for Rodin. Her nude form became the inspiration for some of his greatest works of art.

Rodin soon became a captive of his love for Camille. He followed her around, begging her to see him:

My savage sweetheart, Yesterday evening I scoured our usual places (for hours) without finding you. How sweet death would be!... I can’t take it any longer. I can’t go another day without seeing you.... I love you furiously. Rest assured dear Camille, that I have no liking for any other woman, that my entire soul belongs to you.
For years Rodin and Camille continued their partnership commingling art and love.

Statue by Camille

Eventually, the story of Camille and Rodin spiraled to a tragic end. He began to withdraw from the intense demands of their relationship, preferring the calm companionship of his "gray existence" with Rose. Camille became despondent, making angry sculptures about abandonment.

Before long Camille sank into mental illness, screaming in the streets that Rodin was trying to kill her and steal her ideas. She was placed in an asylum where she spent the rest of her life while Rodin married the talentless Rose and became wildly successful. His lack of passion for Rose did not seem to hinder his ability to make passionate art.

The fulgurous combination of Rodin and Camille emitted some illuminating sparks for us:

Rodin was better at creating art about love, but Camille was better at loving. She followed her passion for Rodin right over a cliff, while the more cowardly Rodin accompanied her only as far as the edge, then backed away.

If one thing is certain from the long history of art, it's that you can't make art and make love at the same time (or, in the words of Robert Coane, "you can't drool and draw.") Every artist who has tried to combine the two (and which artist over 18 has not?) ends up with artistic mush. Love requires acceptance and commitment while art requires discrimination and challenge. As much as we yearn to merge art and love, it seems that the price of great art remains detachment. Poet Peter Viereck wrote,

Art, being bartender, is never drunk
And magic that believes itself must die
Perhaps the separation between art and experience is the source of the very ache that leads to art.


ZD said...

Well... this is depressing. I love the sculptures though.

Norman Rockwell seemed to have a good marriage. You did the story of Maxfield Parrish earlier and he seemed to be able to handle his two passions pretty well, until he was 90.

I would like to know what you mean by artistic mush. Have any examples?

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I don't buy the idea of detachment. In all the time Rodin and Claudel were together, they both created great art. It's not because so many great artists had marital problems, that art is to blame. Most marriages have marital problems.

Anonymous said...

hmmm August rodin...has another affair with another truly gifted my eyes at least...Gwen John.... Or so I have heard, she also served as a muse for many his sculptures in later life....I read these things somewhere....dunno how much of that holds true...maybe mr.Apatoff could shed some light on it too

Anonymous said...

i prefer ARTURO MARTINI's sculptures !( he was a friend of the great GINO ROSSI ) but also RODIN is a "teacher" for me, growning up as schoolart's student.

David Apatoff said...

zd and benjamin, there are lots of potential lessons that one might explore from the ill-fated relationship between Camille and Rodin.

I do think there is a long tradition of artists whose critical faculties diminish when besotted by love (we might call this the "Paul McCartney syndrome." zd, if you want an example of "mush," listen to his "Silly Love Songs.") There is also a long tradition of artists who are notorious philanderers. However, I am not one of those who believes that good artists can't have good relationships. I have written about a number of them on this blog.

The lesson that I was wrestling with on this post is the gap between the experience of love and creating art about love. Rodin had a more miserly and detached view of love than Camille. He was unfaithful, he broke his promises (and breached his contract), he was unwilling to commit to Camille or their unborn child, yet his passionate, romantic art touched and inspired millions. Camille's passion on the other hand seemed more genuine, but the deeper she went, the more ragged and shrill her art became. Good art required a distance and a filter that she was no longer capable of sustaining. I think that is a fascinating contrast worth exploring.

As a graphic metaphor, many couples have tried making love in paint on canvas, in the belief that if you could combine sex and art-- the two greatest things in the world-- you'd have an unbeatable combination. Once they regain their senses, the artistic result is always disappointing.

Despite Rodin's and Camille's respective fates, I'm not sure whether it is better to be a great artist or consumed with genuine passion. But sometimes, in the words of Paul Simon, "you have to put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone."

Anonymous said...

The real lesson is that men are unfaithful assholes. Art has nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea, reminds me of the movie Edward Scissorhands. The girl in the movie intentionally left Edward alone because she didn't want him to see how old she was and quit making those sculptures.

Anonymous said...

"The real lesson is that men are unfaithful assholes. Art has nothing to do with it."

Women are no better, my friend. Let me free you from laboring under this delusion any longer.

Anonymous said...

It's not just their love lives. To be an outstanding artist is an all encompassing task. Most excellent artists range from eccentric to clinically insane. One of the only completely well adjusted great artists that I can think of is John Singer Sargent.

Pinflux said...

This series is wonderful! Thanks again! I'm sure there are many examples of artists in love that can make things work both artistically and relationally - Kozy and Dan seem to be one of them

At least, I hope its not an unattainable position! I'd love to find someone who shared my passion for art.

Anonymous said...

x hunter : in effect GIOVANNI BOLDINI the best pre-futuristic of all the Marinetti's boys gived us a portrait of JOHN SINGER ( better than the SARGENT's one ) ???

ces said...

Unfaithfullness can be found in every living entity, in every age, in every sex, in every race, in every country, etc - i.e., unfaithfullness is everywhere. The problem is that no 2 living entities have the same definition of faithfullness.

The story of the triangle consisting of Rodin, Camille, and Rose is not surprising - nor is it new.

Can a relationship of art and love co-exist? Maybe. Maybe not. Every relationship is unique. Every relationship sets its own boundaries. I don't think there is any doubt, however, that both art and love require a great deal of passion, and perhaps 100% devotion.

I'm curious however - did Rose, or anyone else, ever bear any living children for Rodin?

Austin Kleon said...

You mention Paul McCartney and Linda -- what about John Lennon and Yoko?

Most people blame Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles, but she was the man's true soul mate. He created some of his best, most mature songs during their marriage.

David Apatoff said...

bhanu, you are correct. In fact, one of the things that seemed to make Rose appealing to Rodin is that, while she complained bitterly about his affairs, she wasn't a strong enough person to do anything about it.

Anonymous and Harley, this blog takes a very broad view of the title, "Illustration Art" and therefore ends up strolling through many cosmic issues. However, I am not foolhardy enough to become embroiled in a debate on the relatrive merits of men and women. You are on your own.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, I have read your blog before and I wanted to show you this because I think you could appreciate its handsomeness and its informativeness simultaneously.

David Apatoff said...

ces-- yes, Rodin did have children, including a son with Rose, but he did not always acknowledge paternity.

I agree that every relationship sets its own rules. I find it interesting that the rules Rodin found most conducive to his art were typical of a master/servant relationship. It was fun for a while to have a woman to challenge and engage him, but ultimately what he really needed in order to create timeless sculpture of passion was someone who was not too emotionally challenging to clean his clothes, cook his meals and look after him.

David Apatoff said...

Austin, I am no expert on the Beatles, but my sense is that Lennon became far less productive with Ono. He had a two year drunken "lost weekend" after which he quit performing in public forever and spent years baking bread at home rather than making music. He obviously ended up very happy in his married life (which ultimately may be more important than being a great artist) but unless you have a better sense for their relationship than I do, I'm not sure she did him much good as an artist.

As for McCartney, he was a perfect example of having sex on a canvas and expecting it to turn out good art. When his relationship with Linda McCartney was new and exciting and he wanted to tell the world, he apparently put the recorded soundtrack of heavy breathing from sex into his song, kreen akrore. The song was universally panned.

ces said...

Yup, sounds like a master/servant relationship to me. Someone to handle all of life's details so that all he had to do was create great art.

However, I have seen his sculptures "up close & personal" ( a long long time ago), and they are amazing. Simply amazing.

quasivoid said...

From a visual standpoint, you picked very super sensous images. One right after the other. Sometimes images speak to us more than words do, and express our thoughts more than we can say.

Matthew Adams said...

Bonnard was very happily married and in love with his wife and yet his art did not suffer from his relationship. He created art about love while experiencing it.

I suspect it isn't the bitterness of life that makes great art, but how one puts their life into it. I once heard a scottish songwriter say that he would put himself into a depressed mood on purpose so that he could write better songs, but I think that is a sad indication of that man's creativity. It is like relying on drugs for creative inspiration. It is no longer the artist that is creating art, it is an outside influence doing all the hard work. An artist should be able to take any experience, good or bad, and create something true out of that.

Artist who have to rely on a depressed mood or drugs or being in love are just as pretentious as artist who don't feel creative unless they live in a garret in Paris.

I suspect that Rodin's art and his relationships have very little to do with each other (kinda what you were saying anyway david). Rodin was a great artist, who also had a very big ego or at least a very strong selfish streak. But I dont think his ego was what made him a good artist. He probably would have been a good artist regardless of how good a lover he was.

And Paul McCartney always needed John to produce anything worthwhile, I dont think it was his being in love with Linda that ruined his creativity. Without John his stuff was boring (I know im gonna get lots of hate for that statement).

In regards to artists who love each other and work well together? I can think of one couple whose work was great, and that is Alice and Martin Provensen. Admittedly they are illustrators and not "great artists", and admittedly they didn't produce work about love just because they were in love. They were removed from their subject matter.

Anonymous said...

or artist under 18 lol? at least my cliffhanging was by age 17 for sure. it is a balance, unmistakably. art and love are, to me, very similar things. i also think artists tend need a lot of alone time and when in love tend to sacrifice it completely, and only consider the two extremes but can not be simply unobsessed with either.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe in the artists must be detached from love to make great art...thing.
I do think some artists who work instinctively from their emotions at the time the art is made, would be strongly effected while working, and the work would reflect this(My work comes mostly from my subconscious meanderings at the time i make a piece).
Some artists create within a strong set of techniques that emotion would not influence...It depends on the artist.
You have to take into account the position women had in the past as well. They were lower class citizens in many ways. A lustful man would certainly entertain a girls requests to get what he wanted, but would eventually treat her as most men of that time treated women. To serve men.

kenmeyerjr said...

Wow, David...your posts always entertain, almost always enlighten and sometimes (like this one) spark wild debate. Great job yet again.

I will differ with you on Lennon, tho. He did create incredible work while within the Beatles, but continued creating great work while with Yoko, who you must remember, came along while John was still in the Beatles for at least a few years. And his post-Beatles stuff is just as interesting to me as the Beatles stuff. That 'bread and househusband' stuff came along deep into the relationship, just as the 'lost weekend' did earlier.

Conversely, McCartney's work definitely went downhill after the Beatles...I think he just needed John's combative intelligence to goad him into creating great art, as opposed to what I can only assume would later be the more or less unconditional support from Linda.

Anonymous said...

David: A bit late, perhaps, but I have an alternate ending for this story that may be of interest to you.

As you know, one of Rodin's brightest disciple was Antoine Bourdelle who, in time, taught to Russian emigrée Ossip Zadkine. After the WW2 one of Zadkine's disciples was the young Argentinian son of an Italian bricklayer immmigrant, named Aurelio Macchi:

Macchi, after return to Buenos Aires, was a higly respected teacher at the National School of Fine Arts. When he reached 50 and still single, he fell in love with a young talented student half his age...and married her.
She quited painting against his will and devoted to back him, to administrative matters and to build a home with three children (I became his student at this point).

As time passed by and the children grew up, she went back to painting side by side with her still active nonagenarian loved sculptor.
Not bad ¿eh?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this writing. I found it to be very re-assuring and uplifting about my own situation and doubts about my relationship.

Alas, I think this feeling will only be temporary and my mind will resume obsessing over the idea of a passionate relationship with another artist as opposed to a devoted comforting and 'safe' partner.