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Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Georges Rouault (1871-1958)


Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
with atelier stamp (on the reverse)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
26 7/8 x 17 3/4 in. (68.4 x 45 cm.)
Painted circa 1940
The artist's estate.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 5792), by whom acquired from the above in 1969.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners in 1971.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale
Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

The Fondation Georges Rouault has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

'When [Rouault] paints clowns... the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable... colours grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist were laying aside his crusaders arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work' (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).

Rouault’s adept handling of light in Pierrots recalls the effects of stained glass, which he studied as a young apprentice, absorbing the coloristic influences of Byzantine enamels, Roman mosaics and Coptic tapestries that would carry into his late work. The cool, sober palette is heightened by touches of red that illuminate the canvas, revealing Rouault’s early investigations into this medium, with the jewel-like colouring defined within black outlines, creating a glowing effect. At the same time, the surface has been heavily worked - it is a terrain in its own right, an agglomeration of material that adds a weight and substantiality to its subject. Looking at this painting, it is clear why Paul Fierens would write of Rouault that he, 'paints man as a mixture of spirit and clay, of heart and guts' (Paul Fierens, quoted in P. Courthion, Georges Rouault, London, 1962, p. 255).

To Rouault, clowns represented a naiveté that he longed for in his own life. Their internal struggles, so overt in the commedia dell'arte, made for an emotional retreat from the darker aspects of life from which the artist sought relief. In Pierrots, the two clowns commune with one another in a seemingly empathetic way. The doubling of their mutual presence in identical costumes denies their individuality, standing together as if prisoners in a line, existentially naked and laid bare to their audience who awaits to be entertained. Whilst there is a mockery inherent in their existence, there is solace in their interaction and comfort in their emotional honesty with which the artist identified.

The monumental aspect to the poise of the two clowns is pertinent in that it reaffirms Rouault’s frequent alignment of the figures of Pierrot and Christ. As such, Rouault used the clown as a subject that could invoke similar feelings in the viewer to those prompted by religious paintings. The two figures interact as if biblical characters, enshrined in the canvas; alike in their tragedy, both Christ and Pierrot are allegorical figures that define the human condition, destined to withstand continual suffering, seeking love and compassion. The noble sanctity of this wise and whimsical clown evokes an auspicious soul, one whose philosophical outlook and serenity matched the artist's own, newfound peace in the mid-1930s. "I spent my life painting twilights," Rouault reflected at the time. "I ought to have the right now to paint the dawn" (op. cit., p. 28).

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