‘Fateful Encounter’ unfolds at DIA

By |2005-10-27T09:00:00-04:00October 27th, 2005|Entertainment|

There’s one bit of poignant information that may affect how one views the “Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter” exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, now running through Feb. 5, 2006.
It might be better to see this stunning exhibit of 120 pieces of sculptures by these two magnificent talents, read their translated letters, and view intimate photographs without knowing what fate had in store for Camille, who outlived August Rodin by 26 years.
Love can at times be brutal, deranging, and neglectful, but usually at its beginning it’s enervating, a tonic to creative inspiration. And so it was for passing soul mates Rodin and Claudel.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century August Rodin (1840-1917) was acclaimed in both Europe and America as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance genius. Like Michelangelo, Rodin’s work exhibits taut mastery of the human form both in motion and repose.
In 1882, Rodin met Camille Claudel (1864-1943), his pupil. She was 24 years younger, petite, exceptionally beautiful — a loveliness repeatedly evident in the DIA exhibit — and supremely gifted. Their mentor/pupil relationship soon turned into a passionate romance and became the catalyst for nearly two decades of inspired — and very turbulent — joint artistic endeavor and creation.
While Rodin’s work is well known in this country (his “Thinker” broods in front of the DIA), the work of Claudel has been under-appreciated and eclipsed by her more-famous mentor. (A well-done 1989 French film, “Camille Claudel,” available on DVD, is devoted to her tragic life and work.)
The Detroit area is fortunate to be selected as the only American city to exhibit “Fateful Encounter.” The exhibit, which is housed in several spacious main-floor galleries, is a truly once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity, and certainly not to be missed.
The three-city tour (Detroit, Quebec, Paris) is organized by the Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec in conjunction with Musee Rodin in Paris. Fifty museums and private collectors have lent objects to the show. (The exhibition is sponsored by the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund.)
Among the many masterpieces are Rodin’s Saint John the Baptist, his bust of Carrier-Belleuse, the Bellona sculpture, plus several collaborations of Rodin/Claudel, including The Waltz. Her important work includes, The Age of Maturity, The Gossips, and The Wave. Particularly touching are Rodin’s many busts of Claudel, including one so lifelike she almost breathes within the exhibit case.
Claudel and Rodin were too intensely involved as lovers, and as foils one to the other. They were also to a degree aesthetic rivals from the early 1880s to the late 1890s. Unfortunately the French and American publics were of the opinion that there could be only one master — Rodin — and that Claudel’s work, while admirable and aesthetically pleasing, was imitative and of lesser importance.
Claudel grew disenchanted with their aesthetic nearsightedness and, in turn, with Rodin. He promised her marriage, though he had a mistress. It was not to be.
Eventually tired, worn out, creatively drained, Claudel became mentally unbalanced. She spent 30 years in an asylum, dying there in 1943 without ever sculpting another piece. She was 78.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander