Rouault studied under Gustave Moreau and shared a common interest with his teacher in the mystical and spiritual and how to portray such ephemeral concepts in art. Whereas Moreau created proto-Surreal, symbolist works that portray realistic scenes with fantastic overtones, Rouault used the framework of the stained glass window to capture the inner light he saw in life. The power of his lines to express emotion has few rivals. The color in his paintings represents some of the best of the Fauvist movement. Rouault knew Henri Matisse personally and shared his passion for color. Van Gogh’s ability to use color to express passionate emotion also influenced Rouault.
I have always been drawn to Rouault’s religious works, such as his Crucifixion above. Coming from an Irish Catholic background, the stark, primitive emotion as well as the effusive color pull at my heart like the finest stained glass windows I’ve seen in the old cathedrals of Europe. Even more impressive may be Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre series of black and gray aquatints. (The full series can be seen here.) Jesus Reviled, one of the series’ most touching images, appears below. In the Miserere et Guerre series Rouault displays a depth of tone in the simple and black as well as a richness of line and gesture that belies the often “primitive” appearance of his works.
Unfortunately, Rouault never received his fair share of accolades during his lifetime. Near the end of his life, he burned three hundred of his paintings in despair. Fortunately, the wealth of his emotional and spiritual life still shines brightly through all his work, from the hopeful, colorful celebrations of life to the somber, grey meditations on suffering and death.
UPDATE: For those in the New York area, you can go see Georges Rouault: Judges, Clowns and Whores through June 9 at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. A New York Times review is here.