Los Angeles

George Rouault

La Jolla Museum of Art

Under its new name and program of presenting major loan exhibitions, the La Jolla Museum of Art installed 86 oils, gouaches, watercolors, drawings and prints by Georges Rouault, all borrowed from an impressive list of owners throughout the United States.

Georges Rouault lived until 1958. He worked in Paris during the period of great artistic ferment that gave us the art we have today. Knowing many of the great artists of the time, and participating in some of the important early exhibitions, he developed and held on to a personal, unique style of his own. As a child, he was tutored in art appreciation by his grandfather, and at fourteen apprenticed to a stained-glass maker. After attending evening art classes, in 1891 he dropped everything else and went to study with Elie Delaunay at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Gustave Moreau became teacher of the class on the death of Delaunay, and Rouault became his favorite pupil—so much so that on Moreau’s death in 1898, Rouault became director of the Musée Gustave Moreau. Another major influence on Rouault was his friendship with Leon Bloy, a Catholic writer of intensely religious books. They remained close friends even though Bloy could never understand Rouault’s expression of his religious concepts in paint. In 1903, after an illness, Rouault became a Catholic, and, in his own words “I underwent then a moral crisis of the most violent sort . . . I began to paint with an outrageous lyricism which disconcerted everybody . . . It was not the moderns which inspired me, but an inner necessity and the perhaps unconscious desire not to fall full-length into conventional religious subject matter.” Rouault’s concern manifested itself not only in specifically religious subject matter, but also in works showing man’s unfortunate condition and his attempts to change himself or to present such defenses to the world as makeup, costumes, or entertainment routines. But Rouault’s judges are corrupt, his prostitutes ugly and unappealing, his clowns and acrobats sad and unamusing.

Rouault’s thick areas of color, outlined in black, and his flat, often pointed compositions can be traced back to his stained-glass work, in a conscious attempt to utilize the association of such devices with religious art to enhance and emphasize the religious quality of his work.

The works were hung chronologically by medium. In the oils, Rouault’s color was uniformly disappointing; the gallery seemed filled with rust-red, pale olive, cream and black. Over-exposure to souped-up color reproductions? Faded paintings? Too much color competition from contemporary optical artists? For whatever cause, it would seem that whatever Rouault has to offer nowadays, it is not color mastery.

The painting Dwarf, lent by the Art Institute of Chicago, was a very impressive work. The Rouault technique was there, under superb control so that the subject functioned as a unit, and his unhappiness spiritually expressed. Some of the other works have a tendency to lose the subject through the violence of the technique. The gouaches and watercolors parallel the development of the oils, and are often sketches or preliminary studies for them. The Lovely Madame X and Roi de Pologne were both early, free works of great vitality and spontaneity. The drawings and prints are those of a master of the subtleties of black. The set Les Fleurs du Mal (second set, 1936–7) were twelve examples of color prints—etching and aquatint combined, and were noteworthy as being the only works in the show whose color was not disappointing.

H. J. Weeks