Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Despite being the son of a worker, young Georges Rouault received an education in literature, philosophy, and contemporary painting (notably Daumier, of whom he was very fond). Early on, while working in a stained-glass workshop (which fascinated him), he attended evening classes at the School of Decorative Arts. He eventually joined the École des Beaux-Arts, where he formed a filial rapport with his professor Gustave Moreau. So close were they that Rouault became the first curator of the master’s museum. Emeritus pedagogue, Moreau encouraged the flourishing of his pupils’ personalities. In opposition to academicism and naturalism, he advocated colour and beauty without a servile copying of nature; Moreau believed it was necessary to express one’s inner vision and spiritual elevation. In 1895, Rouault awoke to a faith which immediately manifested itself in the choice of his subjects (rendered in chiaroscuro). Moreau perceived Rouault’s vocation for a fundamentally religious art right away.
The death of his revered master in 1898 caused Rouault great distress. His spirits were lifted when he made the acquaintance of Huysmans at the Abbey of Ligugé in 1901. In light of the meeting Rouault became determined to follow his artistic path at all costs. He made several other spiritual relationships over the following years, such as that of Léon Bloy (even though he criticised the young painter’s works in his articles), who introduced him to Jacques and Raïssa Maritain, who, on the contrary, supported Rouault in all respects.
Aside from his religious works, Rouault began depicting prostitutes in private spaces. He represented them with ‘outrageous lyricism’, in a new way that disconcerted the critics, employing for example unbridled black contour drawing and colouring the tormented or hideous figures with blue and brown, with no charge – neither erotic nor humorous (ex.: Girls, 1905, National Museum of Art). The artist then applied this ‘violence’ to the subjects of the circus and the tribunal (ex.: The Accused, 1907, National Museum of Modern Art), and then to all strata of society: politicians to town and country people, representing the odious and awakening compassion for them.
Bloy considered these ‘hideous’ works to be unworthy of a mystical believer such as Rouault. These works, which echo Daumier’s universe, as well as Bloy’s own books, testify to Rouault’s painful and revolted gaze upon the society’s depravity. But it is above all the expression of his Christian faith in Christ’s presence even within the most destitute being, and in Redemption: this tragic vision absolutely belongs to a profoundly religious art.
In order to support his family Rouault had to concentrate on ceramic decoration, but he returned to painting in 1913, when he discovered a semi-glossy, blonde pictorial material which he used to compose a prototype that would see a rich future: an imaginary landscape structured by line and colour, with a path in the centre leading deep within the farthest ground of the composition to a tower and, in the sky, an encircled solar globe which animates the entire painting with its rhythm. His figures are imposing, encompassed within thick black contours, and they are often frontal and restricted to a narrow frame, thus echoing the style of stained glass art.
Rouault’s art acquired its physical and philosophical characteristics in the first two decades of the twentieth century. However, his book illustrations published by Vollard prevented him from devoting himself fully to painting until the 1930s. His painting would thus undergo a continuous plastic evolution, beyond its constants and around the same themes, in connection with man’s spiritual progression. After desolate resignation, his figures show a stoic gravity, then a soft melancholy before expressing a true joy of life. The palette clears up even more after 1930, when Rouault subtly combines cool and warm tones.
This is also the period in which his Christian subjects begin to multiply: episodes of the life of Christ, Holy Faces, Passion and Ecce Homo, in which the suffering of Christ is transformed into peace radiating from his face, foreshadowing an imminent Resurrection. Rouault achieves a remarkable synthesis between the late Gothic sorrowful Christ and the divine majesty of the Byzantine Pantocrator.
With Christ in the Suburbs (1920-1924, Bridgestone Museum of Art), he fills a townscape with a religious and mystical subject, as did Rembrandt. His landscapes from these preceding decades, whether in the absence of religious figures, or in the presence of legendary ones, exude a radiating light (sometimes twilight), which invite profound contemplation. The intensity of the new palette, the extreme simplification of the drawing, and the more architectural composition that suggests a third dimension are magnified by the density of ‘light-material’ (ashes, dust, and the accumulation of pictorial layers).
A solitary and humble artist, Rouault escaped erudition and theories to create an oeuvre that sincerely attests to his long spiritual journey. The suffering that issued from his early periods have given way to a meaningful contemplation of the divine mysteries.
(Martine Heudron)read more >>
read more >>
Art works from Georges Rouault
You may also be interested in…
Alexej Von Jawlensky
work is available
in the works are available
work is available
in the works are available