Georges Rouault (1871-1958), a French painter and graphic artist, was one of the most outstanding religious painter of the modern movement.
Georges Rouault was born on May 27, 1871, in Paris. His father was a cabinet-maker, and the family had artistic interests. Between 1885 and 1890 Rouault worked as an apprentice to stained-glass painters on the restoration of medieval windows and attended evening classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs. His predilection for luminous colors and black outlines had its origin in these early experiences.
In 1890 Rouault entered the École des Beaux-Arts, and the following year Gustave Moreau became his teacher. Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet were fellow students. Rouault became Moreau's favorite pupil, and his early works (mainly religious themes, with some portraits and somber landscapes) were painted in a traditional manner very like his teacher's. Rouault competed twice for the Prix de Rome (1893 and 1895), both times without success. In 1894, however, the artist won both a prize and a competition.
In 1901 Rouault spent some time in the Benedictine abbey at Ligugé, where the author J. K. Huysman tried to organize a brotherhood of artists. In 1903 Rouault became the first curator of the Moreau Museum and participated in the foundation of the Salon d'Automne with Matisse and Marquet. In 1904 Rouault met the Catholic writer Léon Bloy and, influenced by him, sought to depict the tragedy of the human condition. At that year's Salon d'Automne a large number of Rouault's watercolors appeared, depicting prostitutes, clowns, and acrobats painted in gloomy colors. Although he exhibited with the Fauves in 1905, he did not belong to this or any other group.
Rouault's Prostitute before Her Mirror (1906) is depicted with fierce loathing and revulsion. The series of judges and politicians, in which he attacked injustice and hypocrisy, began in 1908 and continued to about 1916. He also painted the poor and the humble. His indignation was expressed not only in subject matter but also in his brush-work.
In 1908 Rouault married Marthe Le Sidaner; they had four children. His first one-man show took place in Paris in 1910. In 1911 he moved to Versailles, where the philosopher Jacques Maritain and his wife were neighbors. In 1917 Ambroise Vollard became Rouault's dealer and set him up in a large studio in Paris. Between 1917 and 1927 Vollard commissioned illustrations for several books (Pe‧re Ubu, The Circus, Les Fleurs du mal, Miserere, and Guerre). Rouault developed a new and complex technique in his graphic work and worked in etching, wood engraving, and color lithography.
In 1918, when Rouault abandoned watercolor and gouache for oil, his palette became lighter and more jewellike. The artist's fury was replaced by compassion, as in his tender faces of Christ. His mature work has a vibrant luminosity, and heavy black outlines define the forms. Masterpieces of this style are the Old King (1937) and the Head of Christ (1937-1938).
Rouault wrote both prose and poetry. He also published autobiographical books, such as Souvenirs intimes (1926) and Stella Vespertina (1947). He produced designs for tapestries, stained-glass windows (church in Assy), and enamels. In 1929 he executed the sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's ballet The Prodigal Son.
Between 1940 and 1956 large restrospective exhibitions of Rouault's work took place in many European and American museums and even in Japan. He died in Paris on Feb. 13, 1958, and was given a state funeral.
Further Reading on Georges Rouault
The most comprehensive study of Rouault is Pierre Courthion, Georges Rouault (1962), which contains a classified catalog, bibliography, list of exhibitions, and index. A useful survey of his life and work is Lionello Venturi, Rouault: Biographical and Critical Study (1959). For reproductions and commentary on his work see the two publications of the New York Museum of Modern Art: Georges Rouault: Paintings and Prints, by James Thrall Soby (1945; 3d ed. 1947), and Georges Rouault, Miserere, with a preface by Rouault and an introduction by M. Wheeler (1952).
Additional Biography Sources
Dorival, Bernard. Rouault, New York: Crown Publishers, 1984.