Sacred art plays a central role in the oeuvre of Georges Rouault (1871 -1958), one of the most important French artists of the 20th century. The exhibition will use these works to explore Rouault’s lifelong pursuit of depicting the immaculate beauty of love.
Rouault was a devout Christian who produced many works throughout his life that depicted religious motifs, such as the Cross and the Crucifixion. Through these motifs, he expressed the concepts of human suffering, grace, and forgiveness. These works of sacred art continue to captivate people from a wide range of cultural and geographic backgrounds. Although Rouault chose traditional subjects, the methods he employed in his art were revolutionary for their time. His themes, meanwhile, reflect a deep insight into the society and people of his era. It is this modernity that the exhibition will explore, through looking at the meanings behind his works of sacred art.
Consisting of 90 works—primarily oil paintings—the exhibition will represent a diverse overview of Rouault’s art. Highlights will include Automne ou Nazareth and other works which Vatican Museums, will lend out to Japan for the first time. In addition, many masterpieces from Rouault’s late period will make their way to the exhibition from Paris. Some of Rouault’s best-known depictions of Christ’s face and biblical landscapes from domestic and overseas collections will also be on display.
Miserere* is a cycle of prints themed around the concepts of mercy and war. Rouault began developing these prints in 1912, at the age of 41, and he completed them in 1927 at the age of 56. The series is infused with a depth that reflects Rouault’s somberness at the time, having experienced the dual tragedies of his father’s death and the First World War The cycle features many common motifs from Rouault’s works of sacred art, such as the Holy Face of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the Madonna, old districts, and the Cross.
Miserere is essentially a work that revives the icon for the 20th century.
Through the prints featured in Miserere, as well as sketches, unused works, and variants, this section demonstrates the importance of this cycle in understanding the sacred art of Rouault.
Miserere, after which he continued to employ the motif in his art for the rest of his life. These works feature the face of Christ looking out from the center of a rectangular space, around which is painted a decorative frame—perhaps the most idiosyncratic of Rouault’s many motifs. The works possess a stateliness and resoluteness similar to that of artwork found in churches. This section highlights Christian relics such as the Shroud of Turin* and the Veil of Veronica**—both of which Rouault was fascinated with—to examine the reasons behind Rouault’s use of the Holy Face of Jesus, as well as the message he wanted to convey through using it as a motif. Visitors will also get to see Rouault’s portrayal of martyrdom, such as the flagellation of Christ and the burning of Joan of Arc at the stake.
The Passion—the brutal account of Christ’s suffering and atonement for the sins of his people—was repeatedly employed as a motif in Rouault’s religious works. In this section, visitors will be introduced to Rouault’s religious vision in relation to the Passion, beginning with his Passion print cycle and moving through icon-like works created in tandem with his print works, as well as major late-period works such as Passion (Ecce Homo). Starting in the 1930s, Rouault began creating texture in his oil paintings by adding more layers—a major departure from the then common technique of scraping off paint to create texture. This new approach added physicality to Rouault’s works, in a way that resembled the Christian idea of Incarnation—of Christ being the Son of God made flesh.
Landscapes became more prominent in Rouault’s art from the 1930s onwards. Rouault referred to these landscapes as biblical, and he applied colors that appeared to be awash in an immaculate light. He also added subtle indications of Christ’s presence in the landscape. One may interpret these works as portraying a kind of utopia that does not exist in this world. This section divides Rouault’s biblical landscapes into two groups: works that are based on events depicted in the Bible, and works that visualize Rouault’s unique Christian perspective. Both groups of work are infused with an air of intimacy, with the paint featuring a rich physicality that reflects Rouault’s late-period celebration of nature as well as his Creator.