Georges Rouault

Eyridiki Sellou | Oct 25, 2023

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Georges Rouault († February 13, 1958 ibid) was a French painter and graphic artist of the Classical Modern period. He is difficult to assign to a particular school or style, but is generally counted among the artists of the École de Paris. As a co-founder of the Salon d'Automne (1903), he initially belonged to the circle of the Fauves, but soon went his own way and became one of the most important representatives of modern religious painting.


After an apprenticeship as a stained glass artist from 1885 to 1890 with a restorer of church windows, Georges Rouault attended the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs from 1890 and then the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris. Initially he was a student of Elie Delaunay and, after the latter's death in 1891, of his successor, the symbolist Gustave Moreau, whose master student he was from 1892. Around 1901 he stayed for several months with artists and literary figures around the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans near the monastery of Ligugé near Poitiers. The joint plan to found a Christian artists' community failed, however, due to the laicist attitude of the French state.

Years of rebellion

In the first decade of the 20th century, Rouault became one of the leading figures of Expressionism in France and was one of the co-founders of the Paris Salon d'Automne in 1903. His revolutionary style of painting was ignited above all by the eloquent writings of the writer Léon Bloy, who was strongly inspired by Christianity and whom he also met personally. Around 1910, under the influence of the neo-Thomist Jacques Maritain and other representatives of the so-called Renouveau catholique, Rouault's painting style calmed down noticeably, as evidenced by his most recent works at his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Druet in Paris in 1910, and which was to shape all of Rouault's future work. In 1913, the renowned art dealer Ambroise Vollard bought up all the paintings in his studio, allowing Rouault to complete the works, which the painter saw as largely unfinished, at his own pace.

The problem of the unfinished

However, Rouault, who was always at odds with what he had accomplished, needed decades to complete the fund he had acquired from Vollard, which totaled 770 works. In addition, in the course of the close cooperation between painter and art dealer that went beyond this, there were always new, mainly graphic projects that took up Rouault's time. When Vollard was killed in a car accident in 1939 on his return from a visit to Pablo Picasso's studio, the heirs of the art dealer withdrew the unfinished works from the painter. Rouault subsequently invoked the clause agreed with Vollard regarding their completion and eventually instigated a court case in which, in 1947, he was granted unrestricted rights to these works as his intellectual property given their special status. The happy outcome of the trial, in which the painter, against the background of his now advanced age, compensated Vollard's heirs for the works he had recovered, marked the beginning of Rouault's late work, which was also marked by increasing public recognition.

Late recognition

Since the late 1930s, major exhibitions and retrospectives have been held in New York, Zurich, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Jerusalem, and elsewhere. After the Second World War, Rouault's productivity experienced another peak. Although the painter had destroyed a large part of the unfinished works recovered after the lawsuit against Vollard's heirs in a public burning in 1948, over a thousand unsigned paintings in varying degrees of completion were again found in his studio at his death in 1958. This fund was donated almost entirely to the French state by the artist's survivors in 1963 and is now housed in the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Georges Rouault worked not only as a painter and graphic artist, but also created stage sets, tapestries, stained glass, ceramics and enamel works. His attitude was deeply Christian, and thus many of his subjects are determined by Christian themes and issues. After his time at the academy, he initially created religious motifs in the manner of medieval church windows as well as in the manner of works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Francisco de Goya. Around the turn of the century, he turned to the subject of prostitutes, similar to Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec before him. He created expressive pictures that show the viewer the physical and moral misery of the sitters.

Around 1910, following in the footsteps of Honoré Daumier, he increasingly used courtroom scenes in his paintings. At the same time, in the course of a return from gouache to oil painting, his painting style became calmer, his color application more impasto. Particularly characteristic since then is the characteristic, reminiscent of stained glass, combination of powerful bright colors and black enclosing contour.

During his close collaboration with Vollard, graphic art dominated his work for about two decades starting in 1917. Probably the most important work from this period is the graphic cycle "Miserere", whose motifs dealing with the misery of war and refugees were developed shortly after the First World War and were once again of great topicality when published in 1948 against the background of the experiences of the Second World War. Sheets such as "Homo homini lupus" appeared as impressive anti-war images.

When Rouault devoted himself more to painting again in the late 1930s, under the influence of his previous experiences as a graphic artist with colored aquatints in illustration works such as "Cirque de l'Étoile filante" (1938) and "Passion" (1939), there was a noticeable, almost impressionistic brightening of his palette. Rouault's actual late work (from 1948) is finally determined by an unprecedented material passion, which in literature is not infrequently associated with abstract expressionism or its French variety, tachisme. The layers of paint, often centimeters thick, were based not least on multiple revisions by the artist, sometimes extending over years and decades.

Today, important works by Rouault can be found primarily in France, Switzerland, the USA and Japan. Some works were also shown at documenta 1 (1955) and posthumously at documenta II in 1959 in Kassel.


  1. Georges Rouault
  2. Georges Rouault
  3. Georges Rouault, Siegfried Gohr, Mia Storch: Georges Rouault: Stadt Köln, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, 11. März bis 8. Mai 1983, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle Köln, Kunsthalle Köln, 1983
  4. Zur Ausstellung Sehen mit geschlossenen Augen. (Memento des Originals vom 23. Oktober 2018 im Internet Archive)  Info: Der Archivlink wurde automatisch eingesetzt und noch nicht geprüft. Bitte prüfe Original- und Archivlink gemäß Anleitung und entferne dann diesen Hinweis.@1@2Vorlage:Webachiv/IABot/ In:, abgerufen am 23. Oktober 2018
  5. « », sous le nom ROUAULT Georges (consulté le 12 février 2022)
  6. ^ "Georges Rouault". Retrieved 25 July 2022.

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