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Summary of Georges Rouault
A prominent character in the heroic avant-garde years in Paris, Rouault nonetheless cut a lonely figure amongst his contemporaries. Despite this, he made connections early in his career with artists like as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Henri Manquin, and Charles Camoin, which led to his inclusion in the Fauvist movement, with whom he displayed work at the Salon d’Automne in 1905. However, his art was heavily influenced by Expressionism, a movement that was only popular in Scandinavia and Germany at the time. To express his raw and brash shapes, Rouault shifted away from watercolour and oil on paper at the beginning of the First World War and began painting on canvas instead. His thick, rich layers of paint served to emphasise his raw and brash forms. Using a palette of deep blues and thick black lines, he created work that resembled stained glass windows and supported themes that grew more openly religious, with a focus on salvation. However, towards the final decade of his life his palette allowed for pastel colours of green and yellow to impinge on paintings that put his characters within beautiful mystic settings. He spent the bulk of his career painting human figures including clowns, prostitutes, and Christ.
Rouault was one of the few modernist artists whose work was influenced by his fervent Catholicism. To convey Catholicism’s fundamental principles, Rouault drew on the symbolism and primary colours of his period’s religiously-inspired intellectuals. This was an outlandish (and narrow-minded) viewpoint for the progressive environment in which he worked at the time.
Rouault’s prostitute paintings regarded their sitters with a real, non-judgemental empathy, as was the usual among modernists who sought to depict the life of “ordinary” labourers. Using an honest, unadorned reality, Rouault depicted his employees in a way that allowed for (or, in his opinion, demanded on) a focus on bare sexuality. By drawing attention to the tensions between his models’ Rubenesque seductiveness and their exploitation in society, he was able to overshadow the goals of his contemporaries.
In an era of reason and science, and when religion was seen as the philosophical property of only innocent minds, Rouault portrayed the image of Jesus not with sarcasm, but rather as the real saviour of humanity as a whole. A collection of 58 collaged images is often regarded as his finest work. Using German Expressionist woodcuts as inspiration, Miserere (1922-1927) depicts the harrowing reality of daily human suffering, with the image of Christ serving as a symbol of hope for the afflicted.
A sequence of “biblical landscapes” appeared in Rouault’s latter years (landscapes populated with religious figures). The expressionist landscapes of artists like Henri Matisse explored the “joie de vivre” of revelling freely in the physical sensation and direct experiences of nature, but Rouault’s flattened symbolic landscapes combined classical influences with a spiritual aura that was lacking in the work of his contemporaries, unlike Rouault’s works.
Biography of Georges Rouault
Louis-Henri Rouault was born on May 27, 1871, during the bloody “Bloody Week” that marked the end of France’s First Republic, in a Paris basement. Following an accidental explosion, the young pregnant woman was forced to give birth to her second child in the basement.
Rouault, who was born a fragile kid, grew up in the working-class neighbourhood of Belleville in Paris. As the son of an Alexander Pleyel piano factory carpenter, he grew up with an appreciation for fine workmanship. Rouault’s whole family was supportive of Georges’s artistic pursuits and supported him. There was a family collection of Honoré Daumier prints and copies by Rembrandt, Courbet and Manet built up by his maternal grandfather (Rouault’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father).
Rouault learned to paint and repair ancient windows at an early age, and by the time he was fourteen, he was working as an apprentice for Georges Hirsch, a glass painter and restorer. Rouault’s mature style is characterised by thick black lines, which are said to have developed as a result of his early life experiences. On his way home from Paris’s Salon des Indépendants, he’d stop at an antique shop and sketch what he’d seen. On top of that, he would draw in the Louvre on Sundays.
Rouault entered the Paris School of Fine Arts at the age of eighteen. He trained under famous Symbolist Gustave Moreau, much as Matisse, Marquet, and Camoin. Rouault quickly rose to the status of favourite student and close personal associate of his tutor. Moreau was a forward-thinking, open-minded teacher who valued and appreciated his students’ individuality and always worked to provide them with the freedom to pursue their own creative interests.
Many of Rouault’s early works show the influence of Moreau, who encouraged his dreams of winning the prestigious Prix de Rome. Rouault won the Prix Chenavard in 1894, but he was unsuccessful in his bid to win the more prestigious Prix de Rome. As a result of his mentor’s failure (again), Moreau encouraged his protege to leave school and pursue his profession on his own. Moreau persisted in encouraging Rouault even after he had gone. Indeed, Rouault and his tutor developed a close relationship, with Rouault often heeding his mentor’s counsel. Rouault began his yearly contributions to the Salon des Artistes Française when he was still a young man. He also started going to the Ambroise Vollard gallery, where he viewed works by great painters like Paul Cézanne and Paul Gaugin.
Rouault was heartbroken when Moreau died unexpectedly in 1897. While everything was going on, his parents had relocated from the United States to Algeria to help his sister, whose husband had just died away from cancer. A year after being named Curator of Moreau Museum, Rouault was depressed and suicidal. His “abyss” was a dramatic crisis followed by a lengthy time of loneliness and grief. For a while, he didn’t paint anymore. “I learned the truth of Cezanne’s famous words, ‘Life is horrifying,'” he later said.
A community of Catholic artists was being planned by his friend Huysmans, a writer, in the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé at the time. In 1895, the artist became a Catholic, and he was well-connected among the French Catholic intellectual elite at the time. As soon as the party arrived in Ligugé, they decided to avoid all forms of publicity and self-aggrandizement. Rouault had made the conscious decision to never cater to the whims of the general people again. The collapse of the community and Rouault’s return to Paris were brought on by the 1902 passage of the Waldeck-Rousseau anti-religious organisation legislation. After a while at the ski resort of Evian-les-Bains, he was able to regain his composure. Invigorated, he returned to painting and reflected: “My moral compass was rocked by the most brutal of crises. Things happened to me that I can’t put into words happened to me. And then I started painting in an outrageously lyrical style that everyone found bizarre “‘s a good place to start.
Following Moreau’s lead and incorporating his own philosophical and theological convictions into his work, Rouault created a distinctive expressive style and chose themes that expressed his own distrust of bourgeois society’s corruption and complacency. He would eventually forsake Moreau’s symbolism and focus on the portrayal of real suffering. He began to stalk the halls of justice and to paint corrupt judges in a manner reminiscent of Honoré Daumier. He enlisted the help of other painters and invited prostitutes to his workshop so they could paint them. Because of his interest in circus performers including clowns, acrobats, jugglers, and dancer he was able to play around with shape and colour while reflecting on human suffering and loneliness.
His well-known fondness for clowns dates back to a chance encounter the artist had in 1905, when a scenario that would forever change his outlook on life was played out in front of him. The artist stumbled discovered a “nomad caravan, parked by the roadside” while out strolling one day. It looked like a circus getting ready for the next show. “old clown sitting in a corner of his caravan in the process of mending his sparkling and gaudy costume” caught Rouault’s attention. “I saw quite clearly that the ‘clown’ was me, was us, nearly all of us […] We are all more or less clowns,” the artist concluded, fascinated by the juxtaposition between the clown’s apparently cheerful demeanour and his “infinite sadness” inner existence.
Rouault infused his paintings with human experience based on his observations of daily life. At the period, his work was distinguished by the ferocity of its line and the energy of its composition. He had previously taken part in the establishment of the radical Salon d’Automne in 1903 as a passionate response against academicism. Eventually, he’d become involved, most notably in 1905, when he showed with the Fauves and Matisses. As a member of the Fauvist movement, he experimented with pure colour, shape, and composition in his work. As can be seen from their many letters back and forth, Matisse and Rouault had a productive working relationship. Both men’s creative careers had been shaped by their time with Moreau. Both artists were drawn to colour, but unlike Matisse, Rouault used strong heavy lines into his jewel-like tones, and his subject matter was influenced by his Catholic religion.
Rouault was a reserved guy who avoided cafés and avoided the Parisian bohemian scene altogether, preferring to hang out in his Catholic friends’ enclaves. He’d found Leon Bloy’s works at this point, and he accepted the beliefs of a writer who preached spiritual renewal via hardship and poverty. He welcomed the radical and polemical Catholic’s views. In contrast to this, Bloy had a terrible temper and was renowned for his prejudice. He also thought Rouault’s paintings were hideous. Despite this, the two men remained close friends until the writer’s death, which happened in 1917. Novels such as La Femme Pauvre captivated the artist. The storey revolves on the terrible life of Clotilde, a lady who is able to survive all of her hardships because to her unwavering faith. Clotilde influenced several of Rouault’s characters, who were modelled on Clotilde. He introduced Bloy to Moreau’s former student and Salon d’Automne co-founder George Desvallieres, a painter. After meeting Bloy, he developed into a militant Christian artist who advocated for avant-garde art, much like Rouault. For many years to come, the two artists would have a cordial working relationship. Marthe Le Sidaner, a pianist and the sister of painter Henri Sidaner, was Rouault’s bride in 1908. His wife and he had four children together and were married till his death.
In the decade after the turn of the century, Rouault began to get some notoriety in the art world. This is when his paintings started to include heavier shapes, thicker black lines, and more oils. He also began experimenting with other mediums, such as engraver. However, despite his early success, the artist cut a wretched and lonely figure in 1910, when Druet offered him his first solo exhibition. As the Rouault family’s meagre earnings from his work at the Moreau Museum dwindled, they were forced to relocate to Versailles, where they lived in a filthy, rat-infested home in an ancient part of town, in 1912. Georges’s father, with whom he’d had lengthy talks about the essence of art before coming in Versailles, died not long after. He had been dealt yet another devastating blow and sought solace with fellow Catholic revivalist Jacques Maritain. Maritain was a well-known French philosopher who, in 1905, made the decision to join the Roman Catholic Church (having also fallen under the influence of Bloy). During this time, Rouault’s work began to take on a more Catholic perspective.
It wasn’t until Rouault’s Indian ink drawings, which served as the basis for his colossal Miserere book engravings, that he was able to alleviate the sorrow of his father’s death. When the book was released with a total of 58 engravings in 1948, Rouault would finally see the fruits of his labour. Rouault was inspired by the atrocities of World War I, as well as his personal compassion for those on the margins of society, when he created the first sketches, which were based on the Catholic liturgical Psalm 50: Miserere mie Deus.
The artist was deemed medically unfit for duty during World War I. The whole family relocated to a rural area in Normandy, where Rouault could continue painting in peace. Rouault’s work would become more dominated by images of Christ, and in 1917 he secured an agreement with art dealer Ambroise Vollard to exhibit his work. The artist had been in contact with the dealer since at least 1913, when they first began discussing terms. As a result, Rouault agreed to provide Vollard creative exclusivity in exchange for a set income; the dealer even provided Rouault with a studio on the third floor of his home, where he could create at his own speed without interference. Rouault’s financial situation had improved, and he could now focus solely on his profession. Vollard, on the other hand, had a reputation for being a vindictive and micromanaging patron who wished to keep his artists’ work exclusively for himself.
Vollard, too, was a voracious reader and commissioned a slew of Rouault-illustrated tomes. As Vollard’s demands grew, so did the artist’s output; he painted less and focused more on printing. The Pere Ubu sequels by Alfred Jarry (1927) and Charles Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal were among the many books he illustrated at this time (1928). With his “brother in art” Andre Suares, Rouault published a book they had been working on together for many years. Vollard refused to publish Suares’ works because he had a personal vendetta against the poet. The book’s title was changed to The Circus of the Shooting Star when Rouault decided to replace Suares’ poetry with his own works despite his dissatisfaction.
Despite experimenting with printing, Rouault stuck to painting in his trademark style of thick black lines enclosing colours and forms starting in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He decided to work only in oil instead of watercolour or gouache. His art was dominated by clowns, prostitutes, and even the image of Christ. His Catholic worldview had solidified over the course of the year, and this gave his work a newfound spiritual depth. Rouault sought to depict the archetypal human situation via the depiction of clowns, prostitutes, and lower-class individuals whose lives might be improved by familial unity or the presence of Christ, according to the historian William Dyrness.
Rouault took part in a large number of exhibits throughout his prime, several of which were well received by reviewers. The décor and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet The Prodigal Son were created by Rouault in 1929, and in 1937, when he exhibited forty-two paintings at the Paris Globe’s Fair, he became well-known all over the world. Between 1933 and 1947, Matisse’s son Pierre would have three solo exhibits of Rouault’s work in New York, all at his gallery.
When Vollard died in a vehicle accident in 1939, Rouault was freed from his dealer’s contract. Rouault was unable to get Vollard’s drawings, notes, and incomplete artworks because his estate had locked the door to his home. Long before the dispute was settled, World War II had compelled Rouault to flee Paris for the south of France. In the meanwhile, he kept painting after he arrived in the south, where he met up with other exiled painters.
After a protracted court battle with the Vollard family, Rouault eventually settled his claim in 1947. He was successful in his lawsuit against Vollard’s heirs, alleging that the works were incomplete and that their sale would harm his image as a painter. As a result of this ruling, approximately 700 incomplete works were returned to the painter, “provided that he had not given them away of his own volition” Rouault set fire to 315 incomplete pieces a year later in front of a notary public after realising he couldn’t finish them. A few years later, he’d destroy even more of his own work. Rather than being a financial success, the artist’s ordeal seems to have been a moral victory for him.
He started painting with happier and more upbeat tones as a result of his increased happiness and contentment. He returned to landscapes and bright colours in his last 10 years of work, showing a less serious side. Until the end of his days, he planned to continue experimenting with colours. Finally, in 1949, the Catholic Church hired him to create windows for a church in the French Alps town of Plateau d’Assy. Rouault’s health had deteriorated by 1956, and he died in 1958, at the age of 87. After his death, he was granted a state funeral in France, making him the only artist ever to receive such an honour. His family gave the French government over 1000 incomplete works in 1963.
Rouault has a unique position in contemporary art history. He lived at the same era as the Cubists, Fauvists, and Expressionists, but he never joined them. But even though he had a distinctive style, he was never completely recognised as a modernist artist because of his strong religious beliefs and frequent depictions of saints and angels. “That Rouault, pictorial exponent of the pornographic, sadomasochistic, ‘avant-garde’ Catholicism of Léon Bloy, should be hailed as the one profoundly religious painter of our time is one of the embarrassments of modernist art” Clement Greenberg had said in 1945, was an embarrassment for modernist art, dismissing him. Modernists thought he was too conventional, while religious authors thought his religious sensitivities weren’t traditional enough. Both groups disapproved of him.
Only in the 1980s has Rouault’s legacy begun to be reevaluated. His reputation has shifted in recent years, with critics now seeing him as an artist who was able to successfully blend modernist innovation with his Christian beliefs. Additionally, his associations with uncertain radical catholic personalities have been reinterpreted in the context of France throughout the twentieth century. An increased amount of focus is placed on Rouault’s dedication to social and political concerns, including minority rights. His protracted trial was also a first in France’s history of property rights and copyright. Laws in support of artists were passed, and now every artist must be the owner of their own work.
It’s interesting to note that in Japan, Rouault’s art is highly regarded. Japanese calligraphers hold him in high regard and compare his works to those of the best Chinese calligraphers. “Rouault’s lines contain the weight of life” one Zen teacher said. Japanese painters are fascinated by Rouault’s skill of drawing and his deep spirituality, rather than his subject matter.
Famous Art by Georges Rouault
Jeu de massacre (Slaughter)
The setting depicts an Aunt Sally carnival booth in the French language. It seems like the red-clad woman in the foreground is selling wooden balls to knock down the life-sized puppets in the distance. In this case, the wedding of Nini Patte En L’Air, the renowned Moulin Rouge dancer, is shown by the sign “La Noce A nini Patte en l’Air” on the top of the figures in the painting. A gloomy tone pervades the painting. The composition has frantic, scribbled lines that add to the piece’s tense mood.
Two Nudes (The Sirens)
Rouault’s work has often dealt with prostitutes. They’re known as “the sirens” because of the way they sing. They’re completely bare—except for their expensive jewellery and their perfectly coiffed hair. In contrast to the night’s dark blue backdrop, the vivid colours of their skin stand out, emphasising the coarseness of their big, sagging bodies. The ladies seem to be disinterested and worn out. It’s possible that one of the ladies is, in fact, grinning (probably at a potential client).
It’s widely believed that this mammoth work is Rouault’s finest effort. The artist began working on it in 1912, when he prepared an Indian ink book of sketches. When Ambroise Vollard, a “difficult” art dealer, asked for a book of prints in 1916, Rouault chose to convert the original drawings into copperplates, which would become the prints for Miserere in the years to come. There are 58 drawings in this book, which was originally intended to be a two-volume set: Miserere and Guerre (War). However, it was completed in 1927 and published only in 1948.
Since the 18th century, Pierrot has been a prominent figure in French pantomimes as one of the Commedia Dell’Arte’s most well-known characters. This clown from the mid- to late-19th century is part of a Rouault series depicting Pierrot throughout his whole career. The sad clown, in the beginning, represented for him a condition of human frailty and fragility, a state of disappointed expectations. A more peaceful theatrical persona would eventually replace Rouault’s early clowns’ gloomy demeanour and depressed appearance. The colours used here are vibrant and inviting, with the stage and figure both painted in white and red. While the painting’s flattened image places it firmly within the domain of stained glass art, the artist’s signature black strong lines define the colours in a Cloisonnist manner that was indicative of Rouault’s mature style.
Head of Christ
The pictures of Christ created by Rouault in this manner use simple, powerful black lines. The face of Christ, who is likewise encircled by a hazy halo of light, is highlighted by mixtures of warm and muted hues divided by thick lines. The artwork depicts Christ as deeply human thanks to the use of realistic skin tones. With the slightly inclined posture of Christ’s head and the expression of his eyes, the depth of his knowledge is further emphasised.
Biblical landscape with two trees
Rouault created a number of landscapes in the latter years of his life, which he named Biblical Landscapes or Landscapes with Figures, depending on the context. Similar to later pieces, this one has a backdrop of an architectural building and foreground people who are not recognised. Two trees form a frame around the figures, placing them in the picture’s centre (that are also mentioned in the title). Rouault constructs the space of the landscape to support the people as he paints from his imagination. All of these recent paintings include a lot of sunlight, which helps to highlight the whole picture (as it does here). Rouault’s work is characterised by warm dark brown and green tones, flattened forms, and thick black outlines.
BULLET POINTED (SUMMARISED)
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- A prominent character in the heroic avant-garde years in Paris, Rouault nonetheless cut a lonely figure amongst his contemporaries.
- Despite this, he made connections early in his career with artists like as Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Henri Manquin, and Charles Camoin, which led to his inclusion in the Fauvist movement, with whom he displayed work at the Salon d’Automne in 1905.
- However, his art was heavily influenced by Expressionism, a movement that was only popular in Scandinavia and Germany at the time.
- To express his raw and brash shapes, Rouault shifted away from watercolour and oil on paper at the beginning of the First World War and began painting on canvas instead.
- His thick, rich layers of paint served to emphasise his raw and brash forms.
- Using a palette of deep blues and thick black lines, he created work that resembled stained glass windows and supported themes that grew more openly religious, with a focus on salvation.
- However, towards the final decade of his life his palette allowed for pastel colours of green and yellow to impinge on paintings that put his characters within beautiful mystic settings.
- He spent the bulk of his career painting human figures including clowns, prostitutes, and Christ.
- Rouault was one of the few modernist artists whose work was influenced by his fervent Catholicism.
- To convey Catholicism’s fundamental principles, Rouault drew on the symbolism and primary colours of his period’s religiously-inspired intellectuals.
- This was an outlandish (and narrow-minded) viewpoint for the progressive environment in which he worked at the time.
- Rouault’s prostitute paintings regarded their sitters with a real, non-judgemental empathy, as was the usual among modernists who sought to depict the life of “ordinary” labourers.
- Using an honest, unadorned reality, Rouault depicted his employees in a way that allowed for (or, in his opinion, demanded on) a focus on bare sexuality.
- By drawing attention to the tensions between his models’ Rubenesque seductiveness and their exploitation in society, he was able to overshadow the goals of his contemporaries.
- In an era of reason and science, and when religion was seen as the philosophical property of only innocent minds, Rouault portrayed the image of Jesus not with sarcasm, but rather as the real saviour of humanity as a whole.
- A collection of 58 collaged images is often regarded as his finest work.
- Using German Expressionist woodcuts as inspiration, Miserere (1922-1927) depicts the harrowing reality of daily human suffering, with the image of Christ serving as a symbol of hope for the afflicted.
- A sequence of “biblical landscapes” appeared in Rouault’s latter years (landscapes populated with religious figures).
- The expressionist landscapes of artists like Henri Matisse explored the “joie de vivre” of revelling freely in the physical sensation and direct experiences of nature, but Rouault’s flattened symbolic landscapes combined classical influences with a spiritual aura that was lacking in the work of his contemporaries, unlike Rouault’s works.
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