This week would have been the 145th birthday of the painter, Georges Rouault. He was associated with the expressionistic movement and is known for his instinctive sense of color and gestural lines.
Georges was born in Paris and displayed a keen sensibility to art at a young age. He became an apprentice to a glass painter and restorer which very likely influenced the heavy black contouring surrounding glowing colors that is his signature style. Later he went to school at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts where Matisse was a fellow classmate, and fell into the expressionistic movement while discovering his voice in art.
I first encountered Georges Rouault while in college at the Cleveland Institute of Art. The college was directly across the street from the Cleveland Museum of Art, and we spent a lot of time there studying and sketching the Masters.
I soon became enamored with Rouault’s painting, Head of Christ, which is in the museums’s permanent collection. I was drawn to his use of color and lines that had a beautiful raw energy. It opened my eyes and introduced me to the bountiful diversity available in art.
While at school, I learned a little more about Georges Rouault through the art history classes we took. I learned that most of his paintings were of courts, clowns, prostitutes, and later, religious scenes and subjects. He was interested in the margins of society, showing compassion and empathy for the poor and destitute, and had a heavy sense of moral justice.
Georges Rouault continued to be an influence as I navigated my own artistic road. When I sought to forge new paths with my art instead of taking mainstream conventions, he was one of my role models. His unique style of art inspired me to seek my own methods to express the creative channels that had been welling up within me.
It was only later that I learned about his depth of spirituality and began to appreciate his compassionate empathy.
Georges Rouault exemplified the difference between a religious artist and a mere painter of religious subjects. The author, Robert Ellsberg, wrote about him, “His artistic vision was so infused with spiritual depth that he was able, even through such seemingly secular subjects as prostitutes, clowns, and judges, to import a sense of the sacred and of the religious dimension of human existence.”
To him, painting was prayer. He felt that the daily discipline and ritual of painting brought him closer to God. He strove to infuse an authentic reality into his art and his life.
Happy Birthday, Georges Rouault! May you rest in peace in heaven while your paintings live here on earth as an example of your great talent and grace.