(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.