Georges Rouault was born in Paris on May 27, 1871. His grandfather hoped he would become an artist, and introduced Rouault to Rembrant, Courbet, Manet, and Daumier. At age fourteen, he started to work as an apprentice at the stained-glass maker, Hirsch, and began attending night classes at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs.
At age twenty, Rouault enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he met Gustave Moreau; Rouault held Moreau as his mentor, and was his favorite student. (Rouault later acted as director of the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris.) From 1895 to 1901, Rouault showed at the Salon of the Royal Academy, and at the Salon des Indépendents from 1905 to 1912. In 1902, he helped found the Salon d’Automne which was important in that it exhibited work by the Post-Impressionists, such as Paul Cézanne. Three years later, Rouault’s paintings hung in an exhibition with “Les Fauves,” as Rouault had a close friendship with Henri Matisse, a fellow student of Moreau’s.
In 1916, Rouault began a decade long project for art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Rouault published Miserere, in which he addresses Biblical and Christian themes, political and social contemporaneous concerns, poems and plays. Rouault first executed the 58 illustrations in Indian Ink, but then converted them in full-scale paintings. Following Miserere, Rouault published Paysage Légendaires in 1929, which was a book filled with six lithographs, fifty drawings, and his own poems.
A devout Catholic, Rouault’s art centered around religion at a time when artists were conveying anti-religious sentiments. In addition to religious subjects, Rouault also explored landscape, theatre and circus themes. Similar to Daumier, Rouault used social figure type sin order to convey larger messages about the state of society. For example, he showed prostitutes as symbols of mortal disgrace, and judges as symbols of bourgeois corruption. Known for depicting extremes of human emotion and action, Rouault felt that art should incite reaction rather than passivity; it is interesting, therefore, that he disliked the intellectualism that came to characterize 20th century art. Nevertheless, Rouault’s art is best known for its powerfully colored images outlined heavily in black, which often allude to the stained-glass technique he learned in his youth.
Georges Rouault passed away in 1958 at the age of eighty-seven.