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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Previously, Camille Claudel has mainly figured as a character in the biography of the great 19th-century sculptor Auguste Rodin, who was her lover, and her recognition has been limited to a room of the Rodin Museum that displays her sculpture. Posterity has rarely seen Claudel as an artist in her own right, but Odile Ayral-Clause's biography finally sets this artistic genius on her own two feet. Ayral-Clause takes the reader through the span of Claudel's life, from her precocious youth to her most productive and creative years in Paris to the rapidly developing paranoia that finally forced her family to commit her to an insane asylum.
Ayral-Clause's convincing arguments leave no doubt that Claudel was a truly unique and vastly talented artist who is deserving of praise from the art world. As a young apprentice in Rodin's atelier, she struggled from the beginning to combine what she learned from the master with her own style and techniques. Though it is difficult to consider her work outside the context of Rodin's sculpture, Ayral-Clause elegantly focuses on Claudel's struggle to define her own style, acknowledging the multifaceted, entangled relationship of the two lovers whose thematic choice for sculptural pieces spoke of the passion and inspiration they shared.
The biography alternates between telling the story of a talented sculptress and celebrating the struggle of a female artist in the late 19th century. One cannot walk away from this book without a feeling of tremendous respect for Claudel and the women of her atelier. In a world where women required a special permit from the Préfecture de Paris to wear trousers, these sculptresses worked in the clothing of the period -- long skirts, petticoats, and bustles -- while perched on top of high ladders to access large-scale projects. Claudel, while not a declared advocate for women's rights, still played a part in overturning the social rules that dominated gender roles in the 1800s, simply by pursuing her own aspirations.
Additionally, Ayral-Clause's book is particularly rich in period history, folding major events such as the Dreyfus Affair, the World's Fairs, and World War I, as well as the noted personalities and artists of the period -- among them Monet, Debussy, and Camille's brother, the writer Paul Claudel -- into the central plot line of the artist's life.
We have waited a long time for the full story of Camille Claudel's life, one that brings her out of Rodin's shadow. Ayral-Clause paints the picture of a talented, passionate, and tragic woman who was not only one of the greatest artists of her time but also a pioneer in establishing the ability of all women to pursue their own dreams and goals. (Kristen Dahlmann)