Camille Claudel was a French sculptor and graphic artist. She was the elder sister of the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel. She was born in Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne. Camille moved with her mother, brother and younger sister to the Montparnasse area of Paris in 1881, her father having to remain behind, working to support them.
Fascinated with stone and soil as a child, as a young woman she studied at the Académie Colarossi with sculptor Alfred Boucher. (At the time, the École des Beaux-Arts barred women from enrolling to study.) In 1882, Claudel rented a workshop with other young women, mostly English, including Jessie Lipscomb. Alfred Boucher became her mentor and provided inspiration and encouragement to the next generation of sculptors such as Laure Coutan and Claudel. Before moving to Florence Boucher asked Auguste Rodin to take over the instruction of his pupils. This is how Rodin and Claudel met and their tumultuous and passionate relationship started.
Around 1884, she started working in Rodin's workshop. Claudel became a source of inspiration, his model, his confidante and lover. She never lived with Rodin, who was reluctant to end his 20-year relationship with Rose Beuret. In 1892, after an unwanted abortion, Claudel ended the intimate aspect of her relationship with Rodin, although they saw each other regularly until 1898.
Beginning in 1903, she exhibited her works at the Salon des Artistes français or at the Salon d'Automne. It would be a mistake to assume that Claudel's reputation has survived simply because of her once notorious association with Rodin. Her early work is similar to Rodin's in spirit, but shows an imagination and lyricism quite her own. In the early years of the 20th Century, Claudel had patrons, dealers, and some commercial success.
After 1905 Claudel appeared to be mentally ill. She destroyed many of her statues, disappeared for long periods of time, and exhibited signs of paranoia and was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. She accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and of leading a conspiracy to kill her. On 10 March 1913 at the initiative of her brother, she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne. There are records to show that while she did have mental outbursts, she was clear-headed while working on her art. The hospital staff regularly proposed to her family that Claudel be released, but they adamantly refused each time.
Camille Claudel died on 19 October 1943, after having lived 30 years in the asylum at Montfavet. In September 1943 her brother Paul crossed Occupied France to see her and was present at her death. Her remains were buried in a communal grave at the asylum. Though she destroyed much of her art work, about 90 statues, sketches and drawings survive.