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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Georges Henri Rouault: Miserere

Miserere Plate 30: "We . . . it is in His death that we have been baptised."

Miserere Plate 36: "This will be the last time, father!"
The young man kneels, gives his father a kiss, and says, “This will be the last time, Papa,” and the skeleton is at the back of him. He is going to the trenches. It is World War I. He will not come back.


Georges Henri Rouault (27 May 1871 – 13 February 1958) was a French Fauvist and Expressionist painter, and printmaker in lithography and etching

About 1916, Rouault began more than a decade of work for the famous dealer and publisher Vollard. Using a variety of graphic techniques, he executed a series of about 60 prints called Miserere, which is generally considered his finest achievement.

Miserere was finished in 1927 and exhibited in 1948.

Rouault, born during the German bombardment of Paris in 1871, regarded World War I as an indication of what people could do to each other if left on their own. For Rouault, what saves us from ourselves, if anything can, is Christ and the Virgin Mary, both depicted throughout many of Rouault's works.

The central theme of his Miserere prints is suffering. Suffering, however powerfully portrayed, is familiar matter for contemporary art. What is controversial is Rouault's conviction that suffering leads to God and redemption. Rouault concluded that suffering was unavoidable, integral to life and yet, through Christ, ultimately the passage to redemption.

It is hard for any generation to accept this view.

In the reviews of Rouault’s work before 1914, it is said that his work is not merely ugly but it simply was not art, that he had a nervous breakdown. It was only after 1918 that the same paintings are described as religious.

Rouault wrote in the preface to the series:

"...Most of the subjects date from 1914-18. They were originally drawn in India ink, and later, at Ambroise Vollard's request, were transformed into paintings. He then had them transferred to copper plates. It was apparently desirable that a first impression on copper should be made. With these as a starting point, I have tried, taking infinite pains, to preserve the rhythm and quality of the original drawing. I worked unceasingly on each plate, with varying success, using many different tools. There is no secret about my methods. Dissatisfied, I reworked the plates again and again, sometimes making as many as fifteen successive states; for I wished them as far as possible to be equal in quality."

References:

"George Rouault" at Spaightwood Galleries

Miserere: Miserere

Rouault’s Anguished World: “Miserere et Guerre” at the Musueum of Biblical Art By Maureen Mullarkey