Rouault: Seeking the Face of Christ
Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art has mounted a remarkable exhibit, “Mystic Masque: Semblance and Reality in Georges Rouault, 1871-1958.” To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death, the Museum has assembled paintings and prints from the Fondation Rouault, from Paris’s Centre Pompidou, from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and numerous other collections.
There is an audio tour, available online here; and the written texts, which accompany the actual objects at the exhibit, are among the clearest and most helpful I have experienced. Though Rouault’s great series of prints, “Miserere et Guerre,” is prominently featured, what makes the exhibit particularly noteworthy is the number of works from the artist’s earliest and later periods, showing vividly both the continuity and newness of his artistic achievement and his spiritual vision.
It is that spiritual vision which most fascinates me and which will certainly draw me back several times to its viewing (the exhibit is in place through December 7th). Let me mention three features of Rouault’s vision that I find especially compelling.
First, Rouault probed with great honesty the theme of self-knowledge and self-deception — hence his fascination with and depiction of the masks we assume.
Second, his appreciative and compassionate rendition of clowns and prostitutes who often realize that they are playing a role, and in this sense, are closer to “redemption.”
Third, amidst the haunted and haunting faces he portrays, Rouault is ever on the watch for the true image of humanity and God: Christ. Thus the importance of the motif of Veronica’s veil, the sign of Christ’s continuing presence, who, in the words of Pascal so dear to Rouault, “is in agony until the end of the world.”
Yet Christ, as the Face of faces, is also sacrament of hope that “this Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond … is immortal diamond.”