The Spontaneous Style of George Rouault

Katherine19th Century Art, 20th Century Art, Artist Spotlight, European PaintingsLeave a Comment

Artist George Rouault

George Rouault’s works overall can be identified by their thoughtfulness and almost private nature. Religious, but never preaching or judgmental, Rouault presents cycles of hardship and salvation.

For artists, it is a great source of agony to properly express large ideas.  It can lead to overworked, convoluted art.  To convey an idea concisely was a strength of George Rouault.  Each image is simple, yet embodies much grander concepts.  A devout Catholic, Rouault’s works express ideas of redemption, suffering, and the Christ figure.

Born in Paris in 1871, he was first introduced to art by his grandfather, who collected Courbet.  As a teenager, Rouault apprenticed as a glass painter.  This experience along with his fascination with the medieval church guided his style towards heavy lines and piercing color, evocative of stained glass.

Throughout his career, Rouault developed his deeply personal style.  The flat, fractured subjects evoke religious iconography.  Dark and gloomy with only pieces of color showing through, his style gave his subjects a greater spiritual meaning.

George Rouault clown painting

Pitre aux Lunettes by George Rouault

Like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec before him, Rouault became fascinated by performers.  Clowns held special importance. Rouault felt that they suffered so that the audience could forget their own troubles.  He found tragedy within the comedy.  This idea inspired Georges Rouault to paint clowns as a modern day Christ figure.

George Rouault later found this kind of nobility in other subjects such as prostitutes and day laborers.   He was interested in exploring this idea of suffering for the sake of someone else.  Paintings of prostitutes, clowns, and others were all done without judgment or criticism.  Each subject was weary, vulnerable, and deeply human.  Coupled with his unique and spontaneous style, these works give the impression that they belong in allegorical cathedral art.

Vollard, an esteemed art dealer and agent, became interested in Rouault and purchased his entire studio in 1913.  Vollard became Rouault’s exclusive agent and provided for financial security.  With this new stability, Rouault was able to further explore new methods and produce more consistent work.  Rouault went on to do commission work for Vollard which allowed him to begin the project he had been longing to start since 1912, Miserere.

Miserere was Rouault’s magnum opus and took a decade to complete.  Poignant and thoughtful, these works reflect the concerns of Europe during World War I.  Moreover, this collection showcases Rouault’s thoughts on death, war, forgiveness, and compassion.  The subjects are the characters that intrigued George Rouault from the beginning of his career. Judges, clowns, the wealthy, the condemned, and, most of all, the Christ figure were all featured.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.





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