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Claudel statue fetches over a million in France…

[20 Jun 2017]

A couple dancing close and naked… that was the original inspiration for one of the most famous and passionate sculptures in art history. However, in 1901 the Fine Arts Academy in Paris considered the work far too sensual for Parisian society and Camille CLAUDEL was obliged to produce another more modest version incorporating drapes. Without this additional modesty, the French administration would not have signed the State order. In the end, Claudel created several “modest” versions of the work, but the first and most impressive was embellished with a drape like a wave breaking on the two carved lovers, and it not only avoided a scandal but also enhanced the overall beauty of the scene.

On 11 June last week, another modest version of the work was offered for sale in France (La Valse). This version in bronze leaves the female partner naked from the waist up, measures 46.7 cm tall and was cast during Claudel’s lifetime. The latter is a significant detail as numerous posthumous copies were subsequently produced. Entitled La Valse or Les Valseurs, the emergence of this work last year – after disappearing for a century and being found in a family house in the Oise region – is just the sort of story the market likes, and represents a scenario that occurs in France on a regular basis. Carrying a high estimate equivalent to $559,000, the piece was acquired for $1.31 million generating a new record for this subject in France. Claudel’s best-ever French result was $3.1 million for a marble version of L’aurore at Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris in 2014. Hammered by a provincial French auctioneer, Rouillac, at the château d’Artigny in Montbazon (Indre), last week’s substantial $1.31 million result illustrates an efficient flow of pre-sale information throughout the French market. In the end the work was acquired by a member of the artist’s family, the buyer being none other than Camille Claudel’s great-niece, Reine-Marie Paris, whose grandmother married Camille Claudel’s brother. An art historian and co-owner of moral rights over the works of her great aunt, Reine-Marie Paris successfully prompted the discovery of Camille Claudel’s work in the 1980s with the publication of several books, including a Catalogue Raisonné of her works (1990, 2000 and 2004).

A singularly emblematic work, La Valse has become one of the most coveted subjects in Claudel’s oeuvre and, indeed, in 19th sculpture more generally. The first version of the work, boasting a more generous drape than the one sold on 11 June and substantially taller (96 cm) also generated the artist’s best-ever auction result when it fetched approximately $8 million at Sotheby’s in London in June 2013. That record is $10 million lower than the best result ever recorded for a bronze by Auguste Rodin, her lover and mentor for many years (his Eve, large-model version without the rock, fetched more than $18.9 million on 6 May 2008 at Christie’s in New York). At the time La Valse was created (in 1893), Camille Claudel had moved away from the master and was experiencing a particularly intense creative period in her studio on Boulevard d’Italie. This was also the period she created the sagging naked body of an old woman as Clotho, the younger of the Three Fates, and the delicate and youthful Petite Châtelaine, a 32.7 cm marble version of which sold last year for $1.445 million in New York (Christie’s on 12 May 2016).

Over the past decade, London and New York have been competing with France to sell Camille Claudel’s works, although the vast majority of her works are still in France (63% of her lots sell in France generating 34% her total auction turnover) where her sculptures generally change hands at prices ranging from $10,000 to $30,000. This is also true for works by Rodin whose centenary is currently being celebrated in Paris with an exhibition of his greatest masterpieces at the Grand Palais in Paris until 31 July 2017.


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