Georges Rouault was born on May 27, 1871 in Paris in a cellar to which his mother had been carried after the house had been struck by a stray shell during an insurrection. His father was a cabinet-maker in a piano factory. His paternal grandfather was a lover of art, an admirer of Manet and Daumier, who hoped the child would become a painter. When Rouault was a teenager he was apprenticed to a stained glass maker. This early contact with stained glass influenced immensely his later career as painter and printmaker. At the same time he attended evening classes at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, and studied painting at the Louvre. He entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts under Elie Delaunay, who died soon after. He became the favorite pupil and a close friend of Gustave Moreau.
Moreau died in 1898 and the same year Rouault's parents left France to be with their daughter in Algeria whose husband had just died. Rouault was named Director of the new Musee Gustave Moreau. He turned to painting landscapes; he had a period of bad health which he spent in Evian. Rouault always saw himself as an artisan, an anonymous laborer making devotional images. He used black outline to reinforce the brilliancy of color and expressive gesture in the manner of mosaics or medieval miniatures. He drew freely from various sources in order to give conventual overtones to his modern statement of human dilemma. His preoccupation over the years with the plight of prostitutes, tragicomic clowns and biblical martyrs, who as outcasts from society, suffer the burden of insoluble ethical demands, reflects the existential dread of despair he, as an artist, suffered himself.
In 1908, Rouault married Martha Le Sidoner. They had four children. Rouault exhibited with the Fauves, though he was never closely associated with that movement. His work from then until the end of his life was concerned with printmaking, designing costumes and scenery, illustrating books, etc.
Written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
Lionello Venturi in Rouault catalogue, 1940
Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection
World Artists1950-80 by Claude Marks
*The Miserere Series reflects the time in which it was created--the beginning of the First World War. Miserere's sources are the Bible and Christain literature, political and social concerns of the day, and modern poetry and plays. Rouault's horror and compassion inspired by WWI certainly impacted the poignant, haunting images in Miserere, which have been described as having the power and clarity of icons.
Georges Henri Rouault (27 May 1871 – 13 February 1958) was a French Fauvist and Expressionist painter, and printmaker in lithography and etching.
Rouault was born in Paris into a poor family. His mother encouraged his love for the arts, and in 1885 the fourteen-year-old Rouault embarked on an apprenticeship as a glass painter and restorer, which lasted until 1890. This early experience as a glass painter has been suggested as a likely source of the heavy black contouring and glowing colors, likened to leaded glass, which characterize Rouault's mature painting style. During his apprenticeship, he also attended evening classes at the School of Fine Arts, and in 1891, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts, the official art school of France. There he studied under Gustave Moreau and became his favorite student. Rouault's earliest works show a symbolism in the use of colour that probably reflects Moreau's influence, and when Moreau died in 1898, Rouault was nominated as the curator of the Moreau Museum in Paris.
Georges Rouault also met Henri Matisse, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin, and Charles Camoin. These friendships brought him to the movement of Fauvism, the leader of which was considered to be Matisse.
From 1895 on, he took part in major public exhibitions, notably the Salon d'Automne (which he helped to found), where paintings with religious subjects, landscapes and still lifes were shown. In 1905 he exhibited his paintings at the Salon d'Automne with the other Fauvists. While Matisse represented the reflective and rationalized aspects in the group, Rouault embodied a more spontaneous and instinctive style.
His use of stark contrasts and emotionality is credited to the influence of Vincent van Gogh. His characterizations of overemphasized grotesque personalities inspired the expressionist painters.
In 1907, Rouault commenced a series of paintings dedicated to courts, clowns and prostitutes. These paintings are interpreted as moral and social criticism. He became attracted to Spiritualism and the dramatic existentialism of the philosopher Jacques Maritain, who remained a close friend for the rest of his life. After that, he dedicated himself to religious subjects. Human nature was always the focus of his interest. Rouault said: "A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human."
At the end of his life he burned 300 of his pictures (estimated to be worth today about more than half a billion francs). His reason for doing this was not profound, as he simply felt he would not live to finish them. Rouault died in Paris in 1958.