Rediscovering Rouault

Fifty-eight Stations of the Cross is what you might call Georges Rouault’s powerful series of etchings, Miserere et Guerre, on view through May 28 at the Museum of Biblical Art near New York’s Lincoln Center. The exhibit, which hopes to travel to other cities, constitutes the first major showing of Rouault in the United States in more than forty years. As the work’s title indicates (Miserere, from the first line of Psalm 51, “Have mercy, Lord”; and Guerre, “war”) the subject matter is timely.

Rouault’s large, black-and-white etchings (roughly twenty-five by nineteen inches) combine a strong sense of human suffering and Catholic iconography with a masterly technique. Rouault (1871–1958) worked and reworked the etchings between 1912–18 and 1922–27 (the series was not published until 1948), and they constitute a powerful meditation on war, poverty, human venality, and redemption.

Rouault was the son of a cabinetmaker. Before attending the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (as a fellow student with Henri Matisse) he apprenticed in stained glass. His characteristic dark slashes are reminiscent of the leading in gothic windows, which themselves allow for the light. In 1903, Rouault was introduced to the Catholic writer Léon Bloy, whose Christian social consciousness played an important role in Rouault’s subsequent work. Rouault often chose as subjects those who suffered...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.