Georges Rouault

Getting to Know:

Georges Rouault

27 May, 1871 - 13 February, 1958

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Georges Rouault was born in Paris in 1871. As the son of a carpenter, he soon adopted his father’s passion for craftmanship. By the age of fourteen he was working as an apprentice for Georges Hirsch, a glass painter and medieval windows restorer. The impact of this can been seen in his heavy black lines reminiscent of stained-glass windows which characterise his mature work.

In 1891 Rouault began studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and developed a strong relationship with his tutor, the symbolist painter Gustav Moreau. Moreau suddenly died in 1897 and following this Rouault was appointed as the curator of the Moreau Museum in 1989. The death of his friend and mentor sent Rouault into a crisis and a period of depression and solitude. From this crisis, Rouault simultaneously developed his distinctive artistic style and become a more ardent catholic. He began painting subject matter that epitomised bourgeois corruption and often fixated around the idea of redemption. This included prostitutes, clowns, masked figures and cruel judges.


Lot 2: Georges Rouault, French 1871-1958 -Paysage anime, 1905


1905 was an important year for Rouault, exhibiting alongside his contemporaries Henri Matisse, Charles Camoin and Henri Manguin at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, where this group of artists was first called the Fauves. One great example from this period is the mystical landscape titled Paysage Anime (Lot 2) which is in our June 6th Modern British, 20th & 21st century sale. Rouault's works from 1905-06 are often seen as a climax of his early work in their expressive quality, paving the way to his almost iconographic later style. This would be highly influential on younger artists, in particular in Germany, in its liberation of colour and form and its transcendental qualities. 

The climax of Rouault’s middle career is around 1916 and by this point the spiritual crisis of 1905-06 had settled into more muted and controlled emotion. The development of skill in painterly techniques is clear but his subject matter also departed from less temporal subjects. The war would likely have made it hard for him to critic the bourgeoisie so harshly when it struggled to keep the nation together. Rouault’s work in this period mostly featured religious scenes and clowns rather than judges and prostitutes and his repeated application of rich but subtle tones gives the colours a gem-like luminosity.



Lot 42: Georges Rouault, French 1871-1958,Christ et Chemineaux, 1929


Rouault is also particularly renowned for his prints, producing a large quantity during his lifetime and for periods working exclusively in this medium. This was due to the influence of his dealer Amroise Vollard, who along with Rouault dealt in prints by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent Van Gogh, André Derain and Pablo Picasso. One very rare and hand-finished example is Christ et Chemineaux, 1929 (Lot 42), produced for the series ‘Paysages Legendaires’, which is being offered in the June 15th Prints & Multiples Sale. 

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