Georges Rouault

"The Machine invades earth and sky, goes to the depths of the sea, and deep into the desert without fear of disturbing the morning air. We are going faster and faster, without the time to even take a last sigh before we disappear. In this machine era, art is the miracle."

- Rouault, Stella Vespertina, Paris, 1947, n.p.

Rouault, a profoundly spiritual artist, expressed his identification with suffering and poverty in his art. His mature paintings resemble stained glass, reflecting his religious nature, and his early training in that medium.

Rouault was born to a poor family during the Paris uprising, the 1871 Commune. His grandfather introduced him to the art of Courbet, Daumier and Manet. Rouault apprenticed with Tamoni and Hirsch, makers and restorers of stained-glass windows. He studied at the École des Arts Décoratifs, and in 1890 joined Élie Delaunay's studio at the École des Beaux-Arts. Matisse was a fellow student, as were Léon Lehmann, René Piot, Paul Louis Baignières, and Léon Bonhomme, Rouault's friends. Gustave Moreau, Rouault's teacher from 1891, was a major influence. Rouault considered the writer André Suarès his 'brother in art'. In 1908 Rouault married Marthe, sister of the artist Henri Le Sidaner. Ambroise Vollard was Rouault's exclusive dealer from 1917 until Vollard's death in 1939. Roger Lacourière printed his prints.

Rouault was inspired greatly by the Symbolist artist Gustave Moreau, and became curator of the Musée Gustave Moreau in 1903. From 1904, Rouault, a founder of the Salon d'Automne exhibited there. His art reflects his sympathy for the poor, and includes many images of prostitutes (Two Prostitutes, 1906) and circus workers. Rouault enjoyed financial security from 1913, when the dealer Vollard bought his studio contents. In 1929 he designed sets for Prokofiev's ballet L'Enfant prodigue. He illustrated Les Réincarnations du père Ubu (1932) (Frontispiece for Les Réincarnations du Père Ubu, 1928) for Vollard, who sponsored his Miserere prints. Rouault illustrated André Suarès's poems on the Passion (printed 1939) (Christ and Disciples). From 1930, Rouault increasingly reworked his paintings. In 1947 he destroyed 317 of his earlier artworks rather than leave them unaltered. Rouault's later paintings resemble stained glass, with rich colours in simple shapes outlined in dark paint (Christ on the Cross, 1939). In 1949 the Catholic Church commissioned windows from him for the church at Plateau d'Assy, Haute-Savoie, France.


1894Prix Chenavard for The Infant Christ Among the Doctors (Musée Unterlinden, Colmar)

© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos