Seeing Christ in the Darkness

The Graphic Art of Georges Rouault | November 8, 2013 through May 13, 2014

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The redeeming depths of God's mercy amid the sufferings of human experience

assistant carrying cross; christ en croix, golgotha, ecce homo

A devout Catholic, Rouault’s faith informed his work, which at times seems to serve as a vehicle for moral judgment and retains vitality and relevance today. Rouault himself said, “All of my work is religious for those who know how to look at it.” Born out of the unprecedented violence of the First World War and Rouault’s intense compassion for the marginalized and underprivileged, Miserere et Guerre stands as a singular achievement in the realms of printmaking and religious art. 

Three series of graphic prints are represented in this exhibit. Rouault finished his Miserere by 1927. He first drew the images in India ink and later reproduced them as engravings, reworking the plates over the years—digging deeper with emery paper or a file, until the series of 58 plates was finally published in a limited edition in 1948. During much of this time, he was also working on the prints that finally appeared in another important series, Passion, published by Ambroise Vollard in 1939. The Fleurs du Mal works are for a series of illustrations for French poet Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems by the same name. The poems are dark and bleak, showing a hopeless perspective of society. Rouault wanted to show that even these bleak landscapes can be redeemed. 

These works are a milestone in expanding the technical and expressive range of the print. Following the photographic transfer of his ink drawings to large copper plates, Rouault made use of aquatint, drypoint, roulette, and other intaglio printing techniques to extensively rework the original images. The works speak as forcefully and poignantly today as when they were first printed over 80 years ago, and can be appreciated for their technical achievement, stark beauty, human insight, and spiritual integrity.

The exhibition is on display in the BGC Museum Sacred Arts Gallery November 8, 2013 through May 13, 2014.

A devout Catholic, Rouault’s faith informed his work, which at times seems to serve as a vehicle for moral judgment and retains vitality and relevance today. Rouault himself said, “All of my work is religious for those who know how to look at it.” Born out of the unprecedented violence of the First World War and Rouault’s intense compassion for the marginalized and underprivileged, Miserere et Guerre stands as a singular achievement in the realms of printmaking and religious art. 

Three series of graphic prints are represented in this exhibit. Rouault finished his Miserere by 1927. He first drew the images in India ink and later reproduced them as engravings, reworking the plates over the years—digging deeper with emery paper or a file, until the series of 58 plates was finally published in a limited edition in 1948. During much of this time, he was also working on the prints that finally appeared in another important series, Passion, published by Ambroise Vollard in 1939. The Fleurs du Mal works are for a series of illustrations for French poet Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems by the same name. The poems are dark and bleak, showing a hopeless perspective of society. Rouault wanted to show that even these bleak landscapes can be redeemed. 

These works are a milestone in expanding the technical and expressive range of the print. Following the photographic transfer of his ink drawings to large copper plates, Rouault made use of aquatint, drypoint, roulette, and other intaglio printing techniques to extensively rework the original images. The works speak as forcefully and poignantly today as when they were first printed over 80 years ago, and can be appreciated for their technical achievement, stark beauty, human insight, and spiritual integrity.

The exhibition is on display in the BGC Museum Sacred Arts Gallery November 8, 2013 through May 13, 2014.

Sacred Arts Gallery | Georges Rouault

About the Artist

rouault at his studio

Georges Henri Rouault

was born in Paris on May 27, 1871, into a strong Catholic family. Early in his life he apprenticed for a stained glass workshop and attended night classes under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1891. Moreau was an accomplished and respected French painter in his own right, and he developed a close relationship with Rouault as his exceptional painting abilities began to stand out. 

Both his time at the École des Beaux-Arts and the time at the stained glass workshops were to have a great influence on his work as a professional artist. After his beloved mentor’s death in 1898, Rouault was appointed curator of the Musée Moreau. Around 1902, Rouault made watercolors and gouaches in expressive colors, and was unofficially affiliated with the Fauvists (including Henri Matisse). During this time he also frequented a Benedictine abbey in an attempt to form a brotherhood of fellow Christian artists, though early twentieth-century France had strict anti-clerical regulations. 

Soon after, he came into contact with Ambrose Vollard who became another significant influence on Rouault’s work, shifting his focus to graphic art. Between 1917 and 1927, he invented new and complex techniques for engravings, etchings, and lithography. Christian themes, particularly the passion of Jesus, are a dominant strain in Rouault’s work. One of the most famous series of this period is the extensive cycle Miserere which was finished in 1927 and published in 1948. 

In addition to paintings, drawings, and prints, he also executed ceramics and designs for tapestry and stained glass. Rouault is credited as an influence on the German Expressionists. A highly regarded figure in France, he was given a state funeral upon his death in Paris at the age of 87 on February 13, 1958.