Solitary Artist 1914-1930

Following the death of his father, in 1912, Rouault starts work on a book of drawings in Indian ink from which will come the prints for the Miserere. He works on the copper plates for more than ten years. The 58 plates are accompanied by descriptions written by the artist. Each print has the dimensions of a canvas and the work weighs more than 21 kilograms. A physical translation of his spiritual angst, the book is considered to be Rouault’s masterpiece. The events of the First World War bring to a head the preoccupations of the artist, who places Christ and death in the forefront of the Miserere. This work permits him to evacuate his anguish and the extreme harshness of his view on society. Published in 1948, the book is even better understood following the horrors of the Second World War.

In 1917, Ambroise Vollard, one of the most prestigious Parisian art dealers, proposes to buy the entire contents of George Rouault’s studio, some 770 works. The painter accepts on condition that he may finish his works at his own pace. Passionate about ‘livres d’artiste’, Vollard overwhelms Rouault with work, ordering illustrations for a number of books: "Reincarnations of Pere Ubu", Cirque de l’Étoile filante, Passion, Miserere, Les Fleurs du Mal. Vollard’s strength was to allow the painter great liberty as well as all the means to approach perfection. Each of his books is the fruit of lengthy work and incessant alteration, creating extraordinary delays before appearing. Printing occupies a determining place in the works of Rouault but also in his pictorial development. It allows him to increase his power of expression by the gradation of light and reinforces his mastery of drawing. It teaches him to be sparing and pushes him towards a synthesis of form.

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum
magnam misericordiam tuam.
(Miserere pl. 1)

Qui ne se grime pas? (Miserere pl. 8)

Georges Rouault, 1914