Reine-Marie Paris has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Filled with an electric tension that radiates from the connection between the two principal figures, L’abandon stands as one of the most renowned sculptures of Camille Claudel’s entire oeuvre. Focusing on the dramatic moment of reunion between two lovers torn apart by fate, the composition is a masterful study in the expressive potential of the nude body, as Claudel masterfully conveys an impression of the wave of conflicting emotions which threaten to overwhelm the characters after years of separation. In her twenties when it was conceived, the work was among Claudel’s most ambitious early sculptural groups, and was intended as a public statement of her technical and artistic prowess.
L’abandon had its origins in a sculptural group Claudel began around 1886, conceived under the title Sakuntala, a reference to the heroine of an Indian legend dramatised by the fifth-century Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, which tells the story of King Dushyanta and his beloved Sakuntala. The pair had met while the King was travelling through the forest one day, and instantly fell in love, marrying in a traditional ceremony. As a token of his love and a symbol of his devotion to her, Dushyanta gave Sakuntala a wedding ring bearing the royal seal of his kingdom, and promised to return for her as soon as he had completed his duties. To their great misfortune, a curse befell the couple, forcing Dushyanta to forget entirely about Sakuntala and his promise to her. Only their wedding ring could return his memories, but it had been lost in a river, meaning the lovers were destined to remain separated forever more. Sakuntala fled to the forest, where she bore the king a son. Many years passed, until one day a fisherman discovered the ring in the belly of a fish he had caught and, recognising the insignia, returned it to King Dushyanta. The sight of the ring immediately caused Dushyanta’s memories to come flooding back to him, and he rushed to find Sakuntala again.
Claudel chose to portray the moment of their passionate reunion, as King Dushyanta falls to his knees before Sakuntala begging forgiveness, embracing her as she sinks towards him under the force of her emotions. The eroticism of the two naked lovers is tempered by the tenderness of the scene, and in particular the expression on Sakuntala’s face, a mixture of relief, reservation, fear and hope, as her great love is finally returned to her after years of waiting. A photograph taken in 1887 shows Claudel at work on the plaster in her studio, her hands directly shaping and manipulating the material as she seeks to imbue the female figure with an impression of the emotional weight of the scene. The plaster of Sakuntala was completed in time for the 1888 Salon, where it earned Camille widespread praise and an honourable mention from the awarding committee. André Michel praised its ‘profound feeling of tenderness both chaste and passionate, an impression of quivering, of restrained ardour…,’ while Paul Leroi proclaimed it ‘the most extraordinary new work in the Salon (Michel & Leroi, quoted in O. Ayral-Clause, Camille Claudel: A Life, New York, 2002, p. 89). With the debut of this work, Claudel was promoted to the status of independent, promising sculptor, considered for the first time in her career as an artistic force in her own right, rather than merely a pupil of Rodin.
The sensuous connection between the two lovers is often compared to Rodin’s works of a similar theme, in particular L'Éternel printemps (circa 1884), L’Éternelle Idole (circa 1890-1893) and Le baiser (1888-1898). However, the extreme lust of Rodin’s works contrasts sharply against the emotional depth evident in Claudel’s sculpture, which delves into the conflicting emotions felt by its title character as her lover begs her forgiveness for his absence. It was this contrast in their representation that Camille’s brother, the acclaimed poet Paul Claudel, highlighted in his analysis of the two artists’ works: ‘[In Baiser] the man is so to speak attablé [sitting down to dine] at the woman. He is sitting down in order to make the most of his opportunity. He uses both his hands, and she does her best, as the Americans say, to deliver the goods [original in English]. In my sister’s group, spirit is of the essence: the man on his knees; he is pure desire, his face lifted, yearning, clasping that which he does not dare to seize, this marvellous being, this sacred flesh which, at some higher level, has been bestowed on him. She yields, blind, mute, weighted down, succumbing to the gravity that is love; one of her arms hangs down like a branch broken by its fruit, the other covers her breasts and protects this heart, the supreme sanctuary of virginity. It is impossible to imagine anything more ardent and at the same time more chaste’ (Paul Claudel, quoted in F. V. Grunfeld, Rodin: A Biography, London, 1988, p. 222).
After a series of disappointments relating to the casting and translation of the sculpture into marble, Claudel finally returned to Sakuntala at the dawn of the twentieth century, following a commission from one of her greatest patrons, the Comtesse de Maigret. Rechristened Vertumne et Pomone, in reference to the characters from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this marble version of the sculptural group saw subtle adjustments made in the drapery passing through the man’s legs and in the young woman’s braided hair. Impressed by the composition when he saw it exhibited at the Salon des Champs Élysées in April 1905, Eugène Blot financed two different bronze editions of the sculpture, of which the present lot is an example of the larger version. These editions were renamed with the ambiguous title L’abandon, a reference to both the passionate abandon the lovers experience when they are reunited, but also the earlier betrayal Sakantula felt at Dushyanta’s denial of their meeting. Over the years, historians and critics alike have found parallels between the motif and the circumstances of Camille’s personal life, and in particular the dissolution of her relationship with Rodin. Many have seen the young woman succumbing to her lover’s passionate pleas as a symbolic self-portrait of the artist at the start of their relationship, while the choice of title in the 1905 castings may have been a direct reference to her own abandonment following the disintegration of their relationship.