Georges ROUAULT (1871-1958)

From the age of 14, Georges Rouault became an apprentice to a master glassmaker and in 1891, he entered the Arts Décoratifs. He was taken under Gustave Moreau’s protective wing as his favoured student.

Unfortunately he was unsuccessful twice in the Prix de Rome competition, which did not prevent him from participating in the Salon d’Automne in 1903 alongside Matisse and Marquet. He essentially painted religious scenes and landscapes. He also became friendly with the writers J.K. Huysmans and Léon Bloy who both influenced his painting. The same year he was appointed as curator of the recently opened Gustave Moreau museum just after the master’s death as he had bequeathed the contents of his workshop to the French State in 1897. Until the First World War, Rouault painted themes linked to an observative criticism of society, judges, and lawyers but also of the class struggle. He was as interested in the poor, emigrants or prostitutes as the wealthy. This search for truth was also a type of revolt where he expressed himself using shapes and colours. His drawing is sometimes a caricature or tragic but always pertinent, strong and violent. In 1908 he married Marthe Le Sidaner, the sister of the painter Henri-Eugene Le Sidaner (1862-1939).


 

Rouault’s references are visible - Daumier, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Forain. He benefited from a first retrospective in 1910 with Druet. His commiseration for those who were suffering or working in difficult conditions is evident. In his way, he denounced the excesses in “The Reincarnation of Father Ubu”.

Following the war, he chose to paint the deserted suburbs while adding the presence of Christ - a figure important to him as he was rooted in Catholicism - and he stated this faith as it allowed him to present a suffering humanity using the face of Jesus.

In this quest and this expression he sought a form of the Passion as can be seen in “Christ mocked by soldiers”. Between 1917 and 1927 he became passionate about engraving – circuses, maternity, Christ figures – he expressed himself with power and fervour.

Collectors and art merchants recognised the power of his work and he became well known in the United States. In 1938 the Museum of Modern Art of New York exhibited his engraved work. At his death in 1958 he was given an official funeral in recognition of a life and career at the service of his convictions and his art without compromise.

Rouault was an exacting artist who did not hesitate to burn three hundred of his paintings, undoubtedly convinced that they were not up to the standards his master Gustave Moreau had taught him. The prestige of Georges Rouault has not ceased to increase outside France and far as Japan principally as a colourist and engraver.