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 Georges Rouault  (1871 - 1958)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: figure, genre and still life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

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 and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Lionello Venturi in Rouault catalogue, 1940
Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection
World Artists1950-80 by Claude Marks

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

French painter, draughtsman, printmaker and designer, Georges Rouault created a personal style of Expressionism that gives him a highly distinctive place in Modern Art.  Rouault was born in 1871, in the cellar of a house in Belleville, a working class quarter of Paris near the Père Lachaise cemetery, while the city was being bombarded by government troops quelling the Paris Commune.  His father was a finisher and varnisher of pianos at a local factory.  Rouault’s grandfather was an amateur art collector who bought engravings, lithographs and Rembrandt painting reproductions.  From 1885 to 1890 Rouault was apprenticed to a stained glass maker, his work included the restoration of medieval glass; the vivid colors and strong outlines characteristic of the medium left a powerful imprint on his work.

In 1891 he entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where with Matisse, he was a pupil of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, a brilliant and sympathetic teacher. Rouault was Moreau’s favorite student and he became the first curator of the Musée Moreau which opened in Paris in 1903.  In 1902 Rouault helped to found the Salon d’Automne, an independant exhibition for those artists rejected by the official Paris Salon, where he showed alongside the Fauves.

Although Rouault associated with Matisse and the Fauves, he did not adopt their brilliant colors or their typical subjects; instead he painted characters such as clowns, acrobats, dancers, outcasts and judges in jewel-like colors outlined in thick black lines reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh.  His sympathies were for the poor and downtrodden, and he commented that his imagination was stimulated by "the contrast between brilliant, scintillating things intended to amuse and this infinitely sad life."  In 1894 he was awarded the first prize at the Concours Chenavard and, in 1910, Rouault would have his first one man show at Galerie Drouet in Paris.  Rouault married Marthe le Sidaner, the sister of Impressionist painter Henri Le Sidaner, in 1908—they would have four children.

Rouault’s achieved financial success after Ambroise Vollard became his art dealer-publisher in 1917 and he gained an international reputation through the 1930s.  In 1937 he had his first American one-man show at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City and in 1938 the Museum of Modern Art held an exhibition of his graphic prints.  Rouault adeptly worked in the various printmaking techniques of woodcuts, lithographs and etchings, often for book illustrations commissioned by Vollard.

From the 1930s and on Rouault, a staunch Catholic, devoted himself almost exclusively to religious themes in his art interpreting the works in an almost icon-like austerity with intensively bright colors reminiscent of medieval stained glass windows.  He believed in the teaching of the Gospel and stated that his “only ambition is to be able to paint a Christ so moving that those who see Him will be converted.”

Rouault spent the last decade of his life working to achieve the high standard of perfection he had set for himself.  After the sudden death of his dealer Vollard in 1939, Rouault eventually gained back some 400+ paintings from the estate, of which, he destroyed 315.  Georges Rouault died on February 13, 1958 at the age of 87.  He received the national honor of a state funeral.

QUOTE:
“I am far from being a perfect man and have endless failings and shortcomings, but I also have boundless confidence in certain ideas I hold clear.  I have neither a powerful intellect nor great knowledge with which to defend them, but, such as they are, my artistic talents (and I believe I have some) and spontaneous style I can adopt suffice for me to say what I want with fire and love.”

Select Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Musee d’Orsay, Paris
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
National Gallery of Canada
Tate Gallery, London

Biography from Heritage Auctions:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

After working with stained glass makers, Rouault studied under Moreau, later becoming the curator of the Moreau Museum, where he was introduced to Matisse, Marquet, and other artists who would eventually become known as Fauvists.

While first concentrating on macabre images of prostitutes and clowns, Rouault eventually turned to infusing his painting with a sympathetic tone. Often using religious subject matter, Rouault's Expressionistic style remained clearly influenced by his experience working with stained glass.

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