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Family of tragic artist Claudel sell last of her work

© AFP / by Antoine FROIDEFOND, Fiachra GIBBONS | The star item in the sale of Claudel's works is L'Abandon, seen here alongside a picture of the artist as a visitor admires her oeuvres at the Artcurial auction house in Paris

PARIS (AFP) - 

An "unprecedented" trove of sculptures by the brilliant but tragic French artist Camille Claudel are to go under the hammer in Paris next week.

Claudel, whose life and tortured love affair with fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin has inspired several films and plays, destroyed much of her work before she was confined to a psychiatric hospital by her brother, the poet Paul Claudel, in 1913.

Auction house Artcurial described the hoard of works in bronze, plaster and clay that come mostly from a studio Claudel kept in a barn next to the family home near Paris, as having an "unprecedented richness".

"This is an exceptional sale," its art department director Bruno Jaubert told AFP.

"We have a coherent collection from a flawless and rare source that's of an unprecedented richness on the French market," he added.

By the time of her death in 1943, Claudel was all but forgotten, only for her reputation to roar back as critics hailed her lost genius in the 1980s.

The star of Monday's sale is a bronze of two figures locked in a passionate, pleading embrace, "The Abandonment", which has strong echoes of Claudel's own stormy private life.

The statue is one of a series inspired by the Indian myth "Shakuntala", the story of an overlooked wife from the Hindu epic "Mahabharata" from which Claudel drew parallels with her own tumultuous relationship with Rodin, who was both her lover, boss and artistic rival.

- Caught in Rodin's love triangle -

Having begun as his student and model, Claudel quickly became his mistress.

However, Rodin -- regarded as the "father of modern sculpture" for masterpieces like "The Thinker" -- never left his partner Rose Beuret.

As Claudel's star began to rise and she was pursued by the composer Claude Debussy, tensions between her and Rodin deepened, with Claudel feeling she had been deceived and exploited by the older man.

Although both sculptors remain bound together in the public imagination, Claudel's stock has risen sharply in recent decades making her one of the most expensive female artists ever.

With comparatively few of her works surviving, the first version of her sweeping bronze "The Waltz" -- a copy of which Debussy kept till his death -- sold for $8 million in 2013.

Artcurial said her nephew Jacques de Massary acquired "The Abandonment" from the foundry in which it was cast years after Claudel has conceived it.

It is expected to make at least 800,000 euros ($940,000) in Monday's sale.

The auction also includes two clay studies for marbles and bronzes on the same Shakuntala theme, one of which recently sold for a six-figure sum.

The artist's only known pastel drawing, a large portrait of her little sister Louise, will also go under the hammer with an estimate of 60,000 euros.

Claudel became a feminist icon as her reputation revived, particularly after an eponymous French biopic with Isabelle Adjani playing her opposite Gerard Depardieu's Rodin, was nominated for two Oscars in 1989.

The fact that her family managed to hold on to "The Abandonment" for so long adds another touching layer to her legend.

Despite pleas by doctors and friends that she was sane and did not need to be in hospital, Claudel remained confined to the asylum on her family's orders until her death.

by Antoine FROIDEFOND, Fiachra GIBBONS

© 2017 AFP