1871 – Born in Paris on May 27, 1871.

1885 – His parents apprenticed Georges Rouault to stained glass maker Tamoni and then another stained glass maker, Hirsch.

1885 – Rouault attended evening classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs.

1891 – Transferred to Elie Delaunay’s studio at the École des Beaux Arts.

1892 – After Delaunay’s death Rouault became a student of Gustave Moreau.

1901 – Spent some time at the Benedictine Abbey of Liguge in Poitou, where the novelist J.K. Huysmans tried to found a community of Catholic artists.

1910 – First solo exhibition at the Druet Gallery.

1917 – Rouault signed a contract with Vollard, which gave him financial independence for years to come.

1921 – First monograph published about Rouault’s works.

1948 – Exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

1958 – Died on February 13.

 

Detailed Biography

georges henri rouault Georges Rouault ★

Georges Rouault. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

French painter and graphic artist Georges Henri Rouault was born in Paris on May 27, 1871. He spent early childhood in Belleville, an old working class quarter of Paris. His father, Alexander Rouault, was a cabinet-maker who worked at the piano factory of the well-known composer and keyboard maker Ignace Joseph Pleyel. Young Georges learned from his father to appreciate quality material. Though it was a family of artisans, love for art reigned in the domestic atmosphere. His maternal grandfather worked at a post office and was an amateur collector, who bought reproductions of Courbet, Manet, Forain and Daumier. His dear mother Marie-Louise encouraged Georges’ bent for drawing.

His parents chose what they thought to be the best occupation for the boy, who was at 14 apprenticed first to stained glass maker Tamoni and then to stained glass designer Emile Hirsch (1832-1904). The young artist from a family of modest means could hardly have wished anything better. Hirsch had studied under Eugène Delacroix at the École des Beaux Arts, and between1852 and 1880 annually exhibited his church stained glass designs at the Paris Salon. He specialized in large-size stained glass restoration work and had commissions from major cathedrals, including the famed Chartres Cathedral. His workshop was quite busy, and the young artist developed good artisan skills and learned to handle such a difficult material as glass. Nevertheless, Georges found that inadequate and for five years combined work with evening classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs. During that period Rouault was fascinated by classical art, often visited the Louvre Museum and admired Rembrandt.

In 1890 Georges Rouault decided to quit the stained glass workshop and enrolled in the class of Elie Delauney (1828-91) at the École des Beaux Arts. After Delauney’s death the famous artist Gustave Moreau (1826-98) became his mentor in 1892.  Moreau was strikingly different from the academic Delauney, preached spiritual freedom and opened his students’ eyes to contemporary art.  Moreau taught his disciples to emulate not only da Vinci, Mantegna, Titian and Giorgione, but also Delacroix and Corot. He invited his students to his home on Sundays to talk about painting and artists, such as Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec. Georges Rouault was one of the older students in his class and had had enough experience to understand his teacher profoundly. Special relations arose between the two: Moreau was keenly aware of Rouault’s artistic inclinations and provided advice and guidance. It was only natural that after Moreau’s death Rouault was appointed curator of the now state-owned Gustave Moreau Museum.

In 1894 Rouault received the Prix Chenavard for his painting l’Enfant Jésus parmi les docteurs. Inspired by success, Rouault counted on winning the Prix de Rome the following year with his large-size painting Le Christ mort pleuré par les Saintes Femmes. Although he was intended to win, one of the Academy members, Léon Bonnat, vetoed the award. After that failure Moreau advised Georges to leave school and follow his own path, without waiting for awards from the art establishment.  Moreau continued to support his favorite student with advice even beyond school.

Rouault exhibited l’Enfant Jésus and Le Christ mort at the Salon des Artistes Français in1895-6, to which he now contributed annually. In 1896 he began to frequent Galérie Ambroise Vollard, who exhibited Cézanne and Gauguin in his famous basement at 6 Rue Laffitte. In 1897, together with other disciples of Moreau, Rouault exhibited at the Salon de la Rose+Croix, organized by la Galérie Petit. He did painting on religious subjects.

Although Georges Rouault was baptized when he was one month old, he went to a Protestant school. It was not until he turned 24 that he made up his mind to become a Catholic. He became close with writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans and Léon Bloy. Together with Charles Péguy, they belonged to the literary trend which advocated Neo-Catholic ideas and opposed the superficial and sterile official religious art.

In April 1901 Rouault joined the group of intellectuals who assembled at the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé south-west of Paris. Huysmans planned to found a community of Catholic artists there. The members of the community decided to curtail their contacts with the outside world and to concentrate on searching truth in art. While at the abbey, Rouault resolved never to pander to public taste. The passing of the Waldeck-Rousseau law against religious associations led to the dissolution of the community. Rouault returned to Paris and resumed painting, or rather was back on his road to knowledge.

Weaned on the spiritual atmosphere of Gustave Moreau, Rouault maintained that art was no lame copy of nature, but an ability to express one’s vision. He would always stick to his mentor’s advice to listen to one’s inner voice.

After Gustave Moreau died of cancer in 1898, Rouault no longer had any moral support, his world collapsed, and an abyss opened wide in front of him. In the five years that followed Rouault went through a grave crisis. The death of his teacher and separation with his parents, who went to Algeria to support his widowed sister, changed his world outlook and made him feel very lonely.

Weak and exhausted, he went to Evian-les-Bains in 1902, and that was the end of his protracted depression. Peace, quiet and late autumn colors cured him completely, and with renewed vigor the artist resumed painting.

Upon his return to Paris he found writings by Léon Bloy in Moreau’s library. In his polemical writings Bloy lashed out against the hypocrisy of bourgeois society with its flourishing mediocrity and base feelings. His ideas found reflection in Rouault’s paintings. They met personally in 1904 and became friends.

The past crisis could not but reflect on Rouault’s paintings: he now shows life in a caricature manner. His brush literally “scars” the faces of prostitutes, clowns and judges. Rouault creates archetypes, allegories of debauchery, misery, vice and indifference… The artist is interested in man without a mask, the way he really is in naked reality. He does not paint something the public is going to admire.

In the early years of the 20th century Rouault groped for his individuality, working out his new style. His paintings are characterized by the violence of drawing and color, the dynamism of the line, and sharp and insistent strokes. At the risk of losing the support of the collectors of Gustave Moreau, he abandons his old style. The brutality of his works shocks his contemporaries. It is only thanks to his appointment curator of the Gustave Moreau museum, which opened in 1902, that he gets certain financial security and independence in his work: he now has a guaranteed annual income of 2,400 francs.

Rouault Georges 1871 1958 1907 10 Parade Georges Rouault ★

Rouault, Georges 1907-10 Parade

Rouault associates a lot with other artists, including Matisse and Marquet, whom he had met during their studies at Gustave Moreau’s studio at the École des Beaux Arts. The creators of alternative art, whose pictures are barred from the official Academy of Arts exhibitions, they founded the Salon d’Automne, the first exhibition of which opened on October 31, 1903, at Petit Palais in Paris. In 1905 Rouault contributed his pictures of the circus and girls to the Salon des Independents. He was referred to as a Fauvist, yet he retained an individual style of his own. In 1906 Rouault exhibited at the Galérie Berthe Weill. In 1907 Ambroise Vollard suggested that Rouault make designer faience pieces. In 1908 Rouault married Marthe Le Sidaner, sister of the artist Henri Le Sidaner. She was a pianist and gave piano classes. They first settled at the Moreau House Museum, where their first daughter Geneviève was born, and in 1910 moved in with Rouault’s parents. The Rouaults had all in all four children – three daughters and a son.

In 1910 la Galérie Druet held the first solo exhibition of Rouault at 20 Rue Royal. Rouault exhibited 121 paintings, 8 drawings, 43 ceramic pieces and 10 glazed clay works. Such a representative show won Rouault his first loyal collectors. That same year Rouault contributed to a group exhibition in Russia (Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and St. Petersburg), together with Matisse, Marquet, Van Dongen, Derain, Marie Laurencin and Henri Rousseau. Vladimir Ryabushinsky bought a canvas by Rouault at that exhibition. In 1911 the French government purchased his l’Enfant Jésus parmi les docteurs for the Colmar museum (Alsace).

The artist continuously tried to use diverse materials. He mixed watercolors with gouache and pastels on paper and used the back end of his brush to paint on canvas. This gave him unique texture and refined color harmony. By 1910 he was doing more and more oils, producing a rich color palette. Mixed technique quickly gave way to oil. Rouault explored different techniques in search of what would best suit his temperament. He did ceramics and prints. All those quests of self-expression served to enrich his paintings, in which the skill of an artisan fused with the soul and heart of an artist.

Rouault Georges The Couple Georges Rouault ★

Rouault, Georges. The Couple

The same Druet Gallery staged Rouault’s second solo exhibition in 1911. The artist put on public view 45 canvases, 11 monochrome pictures, 16 glazed clay objects and several plates.

In the summer of 1912 the Rouault family moved to Versailles, and within a few days Georges’s father, Alexander Rouault, died. The artist was greatly upset by the loss of his father, with whom he had had long talks about art and had been very close. To dull the pain, he started work on a series of Indian ink drawings, which were then used to make engravings for the Miserere book. The drawings were based on the 50th Psalm of Repentance in Catholic liturgy, Miserere mie Deus. Work on that album proved healing to the artist. Painstaking efforts lasted for more than ten years and did not stop until 1927. The 58 etchings printed from copper plates were accompanied by Bible texts and extracts from Rouault’s letters selected by Ambroise Vollard.

The physical embodiment of his anxiety has become a recognized masterpiece of Georges Rouault. The events of the First World War had deeply affected the artist, who drew Christ and death to illustrate the first canto of Miserere. All the suffering inflicted on man by war was conveyed in the Miserere. Sheets, like Ноmо homini Lupus est, in which Rouault ingeniously carried on the traditions of satirical graphic works of Goya and Daumier, were especially scathing. As Goya did in Los Caprichos, Rouault included his self-portrait in the Miserere – Who Is not Putting on a Mask? (Clown with a Tragic Face on the front cover). Working on that series, Rouault used the specific possibilities offered by intaglio printing.

miserere collection Georges Rouault ★

In 1917 Ambroise Vollard, who had become a famous and wealthy art dealer, offered to buy all the works from Rouault’s studio, a total of about 770, many of which were not finished yet. An exclusive contract between Vollard and Rouault was being negotiated for four years. The artist agreed on the condition that he would take time to finish the works and would hand them on to Vollard only when they were ready. Impressed by “livres d’artiste”, Vollard literally showered Rouault with commissions to illustrate Reincarnations of Pere Ubu, Passion, Miserere and Les Fleurs du Mal. Vollard’s strength was in allowing the painter great liberty while providing him with the means to approach perfection. Every one of those books was born in throes of creativity, as a result of long efforts and unending quests. Prints not only featured prominently in his work during that period but influenced his painting. They enabled him to attain greater expressivity through the gradation of light and masterful drawing, taught him to be sparing and pushed him towards the synthesis of form.

The first monograph about Georges Rouault was published in 1921. The artist became famous. The Druet Gallery organized a large retrospective of Rouault in 1924. From that year on the artist worked in a studio on the upper floor of Vollard’s mansion at 28 Rue Martignac in Faubourg Saint-Germain.

For a decade between 1917 and 1926 he wholeheartedly engaged in printing and painted considerably less. From 1927 on Rouault made an effort to complete several hundred paintings, thus honoring his contract with Vollard. The bulk of his output is figures from the circus, religious subjects and landscapes. In addition, there are nudes and portraits. The themes of girls, judges and the grotesque gradually disappear. The artist works on many pictures simultaneously, going from one painting to another. He examines and classifies them according to degree of progress. He cites Bonnard, “The dreadful thing about art is to know when to stop.”

In 1929 Rouault designs the scenery and costumes for a ballet production of The Prodigal Son, with music by Prokofiev and choreography by Balanchine, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater of Paris.

Starting from the 1930s Rouault’s paintings and graphic works evoke international interest. His popularity is on the rise, and his exhibitions are held in London, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington and San Francisco.

Rouault’s art matures and develops a sharply colored grace. His more static drawing and more brilliant palette translate spiritual harmony that only increases with time. His works celebrate the beauty of nature as represented by flowers, landscapes and nudes.

A sexagenarian, Rouault has financial security and world-wide recognition. Although his life is more stable, he nevertheless lives through new trials as he fights a lawsuit with the heirs of Ambroise Vollard, who died in an accident in 1939. Due to his long-standing friendly and business relations with the artist, Vollard had, among other things, the monopoly right to acquire and resell Rouault’s works.

georges3 Georges Rouault ★

Rouault dans son atelier, 1953 - photographie de Yvonne Chevalier

Vollard’s heirs refused to return to Rouault the unfinished works from his studio in Vollard’s mansion and claimed to be their unconditional owners. Rouault had to go to court to be able to finish his work. It took the Tribunal de la Seine and the Paris court of appeals eight years to pass their judgment. In 1947 a court decision recognized Rouault’s moral right to his works. Out of the 819 pictures claimed, 700 were returned to the artist, and Vollard’s heirs had to repay the money for the remaining pictures that had been sold. However, instead Rouault chose to recover his Miserere. The deal was reached, and boxes with copper plates weighing 21 kg were dispatched to the Paris Publishers, Societe d’Edition l’Etoile filante, founded specially to publish the main oeuvre of Georges Rouault. He worked on that book during the First World War with the aim of denouncing the horrors and suffering brought by war.

Published after the Second World War in 1948, Miserere drew an even greater response and understanding than at the time of its creation. The original size of the first edition was 50.5х65.5 cm. The book has had numerous reprints.

The lot of other pictures recovered through the courts was not so happy. Georges Rouault was 76 at the time and realized that he would hardly have the time to finish his works, to which he had had no access for eight years. In the presence of a bailiff he personally burned 313 works he deemed unfinished.

During the Second World War and the postwar period in the solitude of his studio Rouault concentrates on the play of lines, shapes and colors and finishes a large number of important works. More and more his works reflect his dreamlike interior world, and his painting becomes more spiritual and elevated.

His religious subjects fall into several series: Holy Faces, heads of Christ, crucifixions and numerous biblical landscapes with figural compositions. People dressed in tunics, with no other reference to traditional iconography than a halo, continually enliven these landscapes and give them a strong spiritual dimension. In these landscapes depth is achieved through the play of color rather than through drawing. The palette continues to lighten and becomes very bright towards 1945-7. A true alchemist, Rouault exploits the intensity of oil paints and their emotional power. The choice of color is complemented with a study of contrasts between cold and warm tones, which define the expression of the painting.

This renewal of the palette is enhanced by experiments with materials. They thicken, the layers are applied unevenly on the canvas and this colored paste is shaped through intense work. The uneven surface looks like a geological structure with peaks and troughs. In 1940-8 paintings acquire a three-dimensional quality. Rouault does not work at the easel, but lays his painting flat on the table. The work seen from above can be manipulated and turned this way and that like an object slowly modeled by a craftsman. This distinctive way of painting is similar to working with ceramics or printing. Indeed, the materials of certain later paintings seem to have been fired. Their iridescent color and transparency produce the impression of ceramics or enamels. And one has the impression of volcanic material, solidified and multi-colored.

In 1945 Rouault was commissioned to make five stained glasses for l’Eglise Notre Dame de toute grâce, le Plateau d’Assy. With his skills acquired at a stained glass workshop in his youth, the master produced genuine masterpieces of stained glass art of the 20th century.

georges Georges Rouault ★

The last decade of Rouault’s career (1948-58) is characterized by an explosion of color and real intoxication with materials. This final period saw the most brilliant of his works that crowned his career. Freed from the academic scruple, Rouault pushes his technique to the limits of the possible. The face of Sarah (1956) is a typical example of the period. The accumulation of layers of paint gives the painting a sculptural effect while multiplying the shades, color and light effects. Art for him is a means of communicating by design, color and texture. He sets down his thoughts on paper and canvas. For him painting is above all a “fervent confession”.

In the last years of his life Rouault enjoys well-deserved recognition. He exhibits successfully at the 1948 Venice Biennale. The Centre Catholique des Intellectuels Français celebrates his eightieth birthday at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in 1951 while the government promotes him to the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor.  When Rouault dies in February 1958, he is given a state funeral.

 

 

 

The following museums have the richest collections of Rouault’s works:

Musée national de l’Art modern, France; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Idemitsu Museum, Shiodome Museum, Yoshii Foundation, Japan

The Phillips Collection, Washington, USA.


Georges Rouault exhibitions:

Current

Past


Sources:

Georges Rouault Foundation website

Georges Rouault MISERERE, Les Éditions du Cerf, 2004

Georges Rouault “Forme, couleur, harmonie”, Les Musées de Strasbourg, 2006

Rouault “Première période 1903-1920”, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1992