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Fateful Encounter: Claudel & Rodin in Detroit

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There are people or in this case artists whose lives were forever intertwined either by art, love, passion or fate; Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, the de Koonings Willem and Elaine were some of these noted brilliant artists while there are tragic love stories that are forever told and re-told like Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra.

It was said that the only love story carved in stone though is that of the famous 19th- century French Sculptor Auguste Rodin and his talented student/assistant, Camille Claudel.

The 2005 Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin: Fateful Encounter, presented by the Detroit Institute of Arts is the only stop in the United States of the exhibition which showcased 58 sculptures of Rodin and 62 works of Camille Claudel along with letters, pictures and drawings that give us a glimpse of their artistic and personal relationships.

Camille Claudel was only seventeen when she met the 41- year old Rodin who was then at the threshold of a brilliant career to study sculpture and train under the watchful eyes of the master and in the course of their work developed a fiery love affair with him that was further heightened by their passion for sculptures.

Rodin pioneered modern sculpture and is known for his dramatic works which emphasizes on movement, raw emotions and expression of the soul. His influence can readily be seen in the works of Camille wherein she sculpted with tremendous passion and expressive character until she finally develops her own style and technique as time progresses.

But as Rodin’s work gained acceptance not only in France but all over the world, Claudel struggled to have her work recognized in its own right. While Rodin, a prolific sculptor has had almost a 1,000 works to his credit, the prodigious Claudel in her moment of insanity which merited her to be institutionalized for the last 30 years of her life destroyed most of her works leaving us with just less than 90 pieces of her creations to admire and enjoy.

Nevertheless, what’s left of her works gave us a clear view of the prodigious talent that Rodin saw in her when she first work as his studio assistant in such masterpiece like “The Gates of Hell” where his most famous sculpture, “The Thinker” emerged from among the many characters that inhabit it.

Auguste Rodin’s Saint John the Baptist Preaching, Bust of Camille Claudel, the Burghers of Calais, Balzac, The Thinker and The Gates of Hell were just a peek of the power of the mind of the genius and his eye for form and details with regards to his creations.

Some of the notable sculptures by Camille Claudel in the exhibit were the Sakuntala, The Waltz, La Petite Châtelain, The Age of Maturity, The Wave, and Vertumnus and Pomona which showed her great talent and the emotions that goes with her sculpture.

It can be said that although their love affair was tragic and tumultuous and did not endure the test of time, the resulting masterpieces that they created in the course of their short-lived romance did last.

Thus, their love story was indeed carved in stone.

A record fifty museums and private collectors parted with their prized objects even for a short period of time and also marks the first time that Musee Rodin lent a significant volume of the important works of both Rodin and Claudel to America or to any other museum for that matter.

The exhibition was organized by Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec with Musée Rodin in Paris and was made possible through a grant by the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund.

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