They were both artists who lived and worked in fin-de-siècle Paris. Both showed at the ground-breaking 1904 Salon d’Automne, cradle of almost every major art movement of the early 20th century. Though they may not have known one another, they certainly had friends in common. Now, the sculptor Camille Claudel and the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir share another link: both have new museums dedicated to them in former homes in the Aube region, a couple of hours southeast of Paris.
The Musée Camille Claudel opened in March in Nogent-sur-Seine, where the teenaged Claudel lived with her parents from 1876 to 1879 and her talents were first nurtured by another famous sculptor, Alfred Boucher.
In the old family villa and a modern purpose-built extension, the museum houses more than 300 works by Claudel, Boucher and a half-dozen other French 19th-century sculptors. The 43 works by Claudel include drawings, plaster casts, bronzes and her only known surviving monumental marble, “Perseus and the Gorgon,” dating from 1902.
Based on a core collection unearthed over a period of decades by her great-niece Reine-Marie Paris, the museum provides a uniquely comprehensive overview of her artistic career from about the time she started working with her mentor, lover and perceived nemesis, Auguste Rodin, in 1884, through her most fecund years in the 1890s to her collapse into silence from 1905 onward.
Claudel destroyed most of her own work as her mental illness progressed; she was locked out of sight in a mental hospital for the last 30 years of her life. For these and perhaps other, more sexist reasons she faded into an obscurity from which her artistic legacy has been retrieved only in the past 30-odd years. The Nogent museum is both an important product and a motor of the continuing rediscovery of her genius.
Nogent is about 50 kilometers from the Aube region’s main city, Troyes. About the same distance again beyond Troyes, in the village of Essoyes, a museum dedicated to Renoir is about to open in the house he bought as a summer vacation home in 1896. Although chronic rheumatism forced him later to move south to the Riviera, he continued to spend his summers in Essoyes until his death in 1919. He, his wife Aline, who came from the village, and their three children are buried in the local cemetery.
In 2012, the village council bought the house from the actress Sophie Renoir, the painter’s great-granddaughter, for €600,000. After another million euros spent over the past five years on restoration and modernization, the house, with its gardens and an adjacent studio – purpose-built by the artist – will open to the public on June 3.
While the Claudel museum is all about the art, the Renoir house is more in the tradition of Monet’s house and garden in Giverny. One room in the house – the dining room – has been air-conditioned and securitized to turn it into a gallery space for loaned paintings. But mostly it’s about memory and memorabilia. Using paintings by Renoir as guides, says Philippe Talbot, deputy mayor of Essoyes, the city has attempted to restore the house and garden to the state they were in when the artist lived there.
Still, for the opening, three works on loan from other museums will be on show: a sculpture from Cagnes-sur-Mer, where Renoir built his Riviera home; a portrait, “Jeune Fille au Miroir,” from the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen; and a landscape, “Le Pont d’Essoyes,” from the Musée des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux.
Linked to the opening, the exhibition “Un Autre Renoir,” with about 40 Renoir paintings and sculptures and a dozen by friends and fellow Impressionists will run for three months at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Troyes, starting June 17. Mixing family portraiture with local landscapes, still lifes and sculptures, it will include six paintings from the private collection of Pablo Picasso, illustrating Renoir’s influence on the Spanish artist. “The idea is to put forward a new reading of Renoir,” says Daphné Castano, curator of the show.
So close to Paris, the Aube has always been good for a weekend escape – think Champagne from the Côte des Bar and Chaource cheese. Now, with these two museums, it just got better.
Musée Camille Claudel: 10, rue Gustave Flaubert, 10400 Nogent-sur-Seine (one-hour train ride from Paris’s Gare de l’Est, then five-minute walk). Tel.: 03 25 24 76 34. Open April 1-October 1 Tuesday-Friday, 11am-6pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11am-7pm. Closed Monday. Open November 1-March 31 Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm, Sunday 11am-7pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Closed January 1, May 1, November 1, December 25. Admission: €7. museecamilleclaudel.fr
Du Côté des Renoir: 9, Place de la Mairie, 10360 Essoyes. (train to Troyes from the Gare de l’Est in Paris, then Les courriers de l’Aube bus 4 to Bar sur Seine, then taxi to Essoyes). Open April-September, 10am-6pm; October-March, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5:30pm. Admission: €9 (€6 with ticket to exhibition in Troyes). renoir-essoyes.fr
Musée d’Art Moderne: 14, place Saint-Pierre, 10000 Troyes (train from the Gare de l’Est in Paris). Tel.: 03 25 76 26 80. Open April 1-October 31, Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-6pm. Open November 1-March 31. Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. Closed Monday. Admission: €5.50. www.musees-troyes.com