Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Property from the Estate of Rita K. Hillman
Georges Rouault (1871-1958)

Le Pierrot sage

Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Le Pierrot sage
signed 'G Rouault' (center right); titled 'Pierrot sage' (on the stretcher)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
29½ x 22¼ in. (75 x 56.5 cm.)
Painted in 1943
Galerie Louis Carré, Paris.
Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, November 1949.
Cahiers d'Art, 1940-1944, nos. 15-19, p. 152 (illustrated).
L. Venturi, Georges Rouault, Paris, 1948, p. 199 (illustrated, pl. 170).
H.W. Janson and D.J. Janson, The Story of Painting for Young People, New York, 1952, p. 147, no. 123 (illustrated in color).
"Retrospective Exhibition: Rouault," in Los Angeles County Museum Bulletin of the Art Division, Summer 1953, vol. 5, no. 3, p. 31.
E.C. Munro, Golden Encyclopedia of Art, New York, 1961, p. 251 (illustrated in color).
P. Courthion, Georges Rouault, New York, 1962, p. 469, no. 442 (illustrated, p. 445).
B. Dorival and I. Rouault, Rouault, L'oeuvre peint, Monte-Carlo, 1988, vol. II, p. 212, no. 2229 (illustrated).
E. Braun, Manet to Matisse, The Hillman Family Collection, Seattle and London, 1994, p. 164, no. 62 (illustrated in color, p. 165).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., 1949.
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Georges Rouault, July-October 1952, p. 30, no. 71 (illustrated, pl. XIV).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts and The Hague, Municipal Museum, Georges Rouault, Rétrospective, 1952, p. 55, no. 51 (illustrated, pl. 43).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Cleveland Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rouault, retrospective exhibition, 1953, p. 29.
New York University, The Grey Art Gallery, Georges Rouault, April-May 1981.
Sale room notice
Please note the correct medium is oil on paper laid down on canvas.

Lot Essay

Circus performers and the characters of the commedia dell'arte remained Rouault's most frequent subjects throughout his career. In the romantic melancholy of Pierrot, the archetypal sad and self-effacing clown, the artist found a touchstone for the human condition and a mirror that reflected the vast parade of life. Removed from his personal preoccupation with the spectacle of performance, Le Pierrot sage here sits in pensive introspection, as he turns the pages of a book. He evokes what was for Rouault both a universal pathos and, as was also the case in the work of the young Picasso, a profoundly intimate self-portrait: "I have seen clearly that the 'clown' was I, was us, almost all of us...We are all clowns to a greater or lesser extent...Who would then dare say that he has not been overwhelmed, down to the pit of his stomach, by an immense pity?" (quoted in F. Hergott, Rouault, Barcelona, 1992, p. 15).

A compassionate figure, Le Pierrot sage engages in meditative study, his head lowered and eyes veiled. The vulnerable disposition of his bowed figure recalls Rouault's many images of a suffering Christ; it has been suggested that the small, open book resting on his lap is perhaps a Bible, whose message that through suffering one finds a path to God resonated deeply with Rouault's Christian faith. Indeed, the noble sanctity of this wise Pierrot evokes an auspicious soul, one whose philosophical outlook and serenity matched the artist's own, newfound peace in the mid-1940s. "I spent my life painting twilights," Rouault reflected at the time. "I ought to have the right now to paint the dawn" (quoted in J. T. Soby, Georges Rouault: Paintings and Prints, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1945, p. 28).

The heavily encrusted surface in La Pierrot sage is characteristic of Rouault's lyrical, mature style and projects both spiritual gravitas and the very weight and substance of worldly existence. Thick, black contours set off the figure's forms against a radiant and richly textured cerulean background. Rouault worked predominantly in blues in the 1940s, as he concentrated his pictorial effects and handled his paints with increased density; here the rich color continues seamlessly into the framed painting of the clown behind him and into the open sky beyond the window. The artist's adept handling of light recalls the effects of stained glass, which he studied as a young apprentice; as Soby suggests, Rouault may have absorbed the coloristic influences of Byzantine enamels, Roman mosaics and Coptic tapestries into his late work as well. The warm harmonies of Le Pierrot sage are a testament to Rouault's mastery of spiritual and emotional color and suggest the artist's graceful acquiescence to the "ideal of art for its own sake," which his early figures so powerfully repudiated, in the serenity of his later years (in op. cit., p. 26). This new softness is confirmed by the wise Pierrot, whose "contemplation and happy sadness make one think of such figures painted by Corot for his own pleasure in the latter days of his life" (in B. Dorival, "Rouault, Paintings 1929-1956," L'oeuvre peint, Monte-Carlo, 1988, p. 20).

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