Mad Women

(Camille Claudel’s “The Wave.” Via A World to Win.)

A little while ago, I posted about Camille Claudel, but didn’t actually show the connection that makes her presence on this blog, which is mostly about Japan, clearer. So, here goes!

Shortly after the Meiji Restauration in 1868 when Japan was opened to trade, Japanese art became all the rage in Europe and influenced European art in a movement familiarly known as Japonisme. Therefore, it’s not surprising that artists such as Claudel were also influenced. Comparisons have been made between her miniature “The Wave” (above) and Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” but Claudel has a deeper, more personal connection to Japan that isn’t as obvious.

I’d like to start a new series of posts about the personal connections and relationships that tied some prominent Western thinkers and artists to Japan. I’m often surprised what kinds of deep connections crop up between East and West. By the front door of my apartment, I have a dry erase board on which I’ve been mapping out various such relationships. Considering how fascinating these are, I feel like I should share them., and for lack of a better name, I’m going to call the series “Japan Connections” for now. (If I think of something better, or if you can think of something, leave a note, and I might change it.)

The connection Camille Claudel had to Japan that fascinates me was through her little brother, Paul Claudel, the diplomat and playwright. He entered the civil service in 1893, and among his many posts throughout the world, one that had a deep impact on his work as a playwright was his time in Tokyo from 1922 to 1928.

Camille created a number of sculptures of her “little Paul.” Some sources say Paul also idolized his older sister, but he was also instrumental in her induction into a mental asylum in 1913, only days after her father’s death. As may be familiar to you, Camille remained institutionalized the remaining 30 years of her life although doctors suggested her release sometime in the 1920s and visitors said she did not seem in the least in need of institutionalization.

Unfortunately, I’m no expert of Paul Claudel. His fervor for the Catholic faith and his right-wing leanings have dampened my interest in his work. However, a strong resemblance between some characters in his plays and his sister Camille has been pointed out. Other research has shown that a number of his plays show strong influences from Nô, which he reportedly saw repeatedly during his time in Tokyo.

Although my understanding of the personal influences and the influences from Nô in Paul’s plays is spotty, the connection seems strong to me. In his mind, did he see his sister in the figures of mad women in Nô plays? I have no doubt he did.

6 thoughts on “Mad Women

  1. Hi Hanna, have you ever read the biography of CC by Anne Delbree “Une femme” ??
    There is a “time line” in the end, CC, Auguste and Paul. I could re-read and
    find out, maybe what you are looking for. Let me know if you have read the book.
    I was in NYC and saw the Alexander McQueen Show at the MET Museum. Please read up
    on the internet about it. It was amazing …. I did not know his Japanese influenced cloths
    the models in the middle of a chess board, moving like actors (NO??)
    I did not know the smallest thing, WHAT an artist he was !!!
    So very sad he ended his life so young.
    Please take care.
    Love, CH
    PS I DO touch trees too – for strength !

    1. Dear Christiane,

      Yes, I have that book! But my French has gotten so poor since I started studying Japanese ten years ago, that I haven’t been able to read it yet. But I found the chronology you mentioned in the back, and it seems as if Paul also went to Japan in 1898 before he became ambassador!

      Alexander McQueen fascinates me too, but I know very little about him. . . thanks for the tip! I love his mixture of Japanese brocade with oyster shells and the silver and pearl neckpiece. Traditional Japanese fabrics seem so difficult to incorporate into western-style clothing, but it’s beautiful! Like you say, he really was an artist.


  2. Hanna, the book is translated by Carol Cosman.
    But it made me so angry about Paul, who did not safe her !!
    Egoistic MAN views of the world – so I was so touched that YOU
    made me aware of her and her work again. She was a victim of both: PC and AR !
    The timeline is most interesting, I think.

    1. Dear Christiane,

      For a long time I identified with CC, because I wanted to make my way in a male-dominated art form, namely Noh. That didn’t work out, so I’m in academia studying Noh instead (and having even more fun, I might add).

      However, looking back now with the experiences I gained in Noh performance, I’m not so sure that AR was as much of a beast as he might have been portrayed. I think CC was upset by her professional relationship to AR (which was obviously tightly woven together with her personal relationship to him). She thought he took her work and passed it off as his, but that’s was normal in the European apprentice system, which AR perhaps still worked by. She was oppressed, therefore, not by a man, but by the prevalent hierarchical structure of the art world at the time… a structure she couldn’t break out of, perhaps because of her too-close relationship to AR.

      A lot of my information about their relationship came from a different book about them in English by JA Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth. Do you know it?


  3. Hi Hanna, no, I don’t know this book. But I thank you for lightning up her situation.
    She was so trapped that she became desperate. I remember in the movie the part where she
    destroys all her casts …. but they say she was not insane to be in an asylum, so the
    male dominated world was threatened by her being gifted as a sculpturesse.
    In your case is it harder to overcome to be a woman or to be a foreigner in Noh Theater ??
    What made you interested in this art form ? Are you graduating this year ?
    I don’t know about Noh – but I hope YOUR sensei is good and decent.
    All the best,

    1. Dear Christiane,

      I used to think exactly what you said there, and again that’s how I approached my situation in Noh. By now, it’s hard to untie my own experiences from my ideas on Camille, because where I don’t know her story, particularly with the emotional attachment to art, I fill in my own.

      But simply thinking that phrase, “the male dominated world was threatened by her being gifted as a sculptress,” can make a person go crazy. The idea within that sentence is that the whole world is set against the fulfillment of a set of possibilities that the individual finds vital to her well-being.

      I think there are healthier ways of looking at it, the healthiest perhaps is realizing that there are infinite possibilities out there and that doing something that requires self-deprecation and self-immolation ultimately doesn’t lead to happiness.

      Human beings (male and female) are limited beings. We are not all-powerful gods that can do anything and everything as we like to think sometimes. Depressing for some, perhaps, but I find the infinite wealth of possibilities that we have within that limited existence make life incredibly rich and fulfilling.


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