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Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
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Property of La Salle University
Georges Rouault (1871-1958)

Le dernier romantique

Details
Georges Rouault (1871-1958)
Le dernier romantique
signed 'G Rouault' (lower right); signed again and titled 'G. Rouault Le dernier romantique' (on the reverse)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
26 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. (68 x 50.1 cm.)
Painted in 1937
Provenance
Ambroise Vollard, Paris (acquired from the artist, May 1937).
Ruth and Harry Bakwin, New York (by 1940); sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 20 October 1976, lot 66.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
M. Dormoy and W. George, "Georges Rouault: oeuvres inédites," La Renaissance, October-December 1937 (illustrated).
L. Venturi, Rouault, Paris, 1959, p. 90 (illustrated in color, p. 88).
P. Courthion, Rouault, New York, 1962, p. 437, no. 352 (illustrated).
J. Kind, Georges Rouault, New York, 1969.
B. Dorival and I. Rouault, Rouault: L'oeuvre peint, Monte-Carlo, 1988, vol. II, p. 144, no. 1827 (illustrated).
C. Wistar, La Salle University Art Museum: Guide to the Collection, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 97 (illustrated; with incorrect support).
Exhibited
Paris, Petit Palais, Les maîtres de l'art indépendant, 1895-1937, June-October 1937, p. 40, no. 41.
San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate International Exposition, 1940, p. 85, no. 695.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and Chicago, Renaissance Society, Georges Rouault: Paintings and Prints, 1945, p. 129, no. 76 (illustrated, p. 95).
Baltimore Museum of Art, Themes and Variations in Painting and Sculpture, April-May 1948, p. 55, no. 17 (illustrated, p. 21).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts and Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Georges Rouault, May-June 1952, p. 54, no. 36 (illustrated, p. 37).
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Georges Rouault, July-October 1952, p. 27, no. 54 (illustrated, pl. XI).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Cleveland Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Rouault: Retrospective Exhibition, March-August 1953, p. 29.
Milan, Galleria d'arte moderna, Mostra di Georges Rouault, April-June 1954, p. 19, no. 58 (illustrated, p. 20).
Edinburgh, The Royal Scottish Academy and London, Tate Gallery, Rouault, August-November 1966, p. 51, no. 71 (illustrated).
New York, Wildenstein & Co. Inc., The Dr. and Mrs. Harry Bakwin Collection, October-November 1967, p. 55, no. 35 (illustrated, p. 35; dated circa 1935).
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Georges Rouault: Exposition du Centenaire, May-September 1971, p. 94, no. 45 (illustrated in color, p. 95; with incorrect support).
New York, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Georges Rouault: Judges, Clowns and Whores, May-June 2007, p. 56, no. 26 (illustrated; illustrated again, p. 29).
Boston College, McMullen Museum of Art, Mystic Masque: Semblance and Reality in Georges Rouault, August-December 2008, p. 555, no. 50 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Stealing a surreptitious glance at the viewer out of the corner of his eye, the protagonist at the heart of Rouault’s 1937 composition Le dernier romantique quietly regards us with an intense, enigmatic gaze, drawing us into his world as he diligently holds himself motionless for the portrait. Sharing many similarities with the final composition of Rouault’s long-gestating Le vieux roi (1916-1936, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh), Le dernier romantique has often been described as a tongue-in-cheek self-portrait of the artist, one which plays up to his identification by scholars, critics and even Rouault himself, as “the last of the Romantics” (Rouault, quoted in Rouault, exh. cat., Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1966, p. 51). Indeed, dressed in an anachronistic costume that harks back to the dandyish figures of the 19th century, and portraying himself in a pose that seems to deliberately echo Francisco Goya’s self-portrait from the beginning of Los Caprichos, Rouault appears to be playing up to this moniker, casting himself as the last great figure of a swiftly disappearing breed of artists.
This romantic inclination manifested itself most visibly in the growing pool of historical sources from which Rouault drew his inspiration during the 1930s, with the artist borrowing elements of Byzantine, Greek, Persian and Medieval art to enrich his compositions. These diverse sources imbued Rouault’s paintings with a new sense of structure and granted his figures a regal, almost spiritual, character. Roman mosaics, Coptic tapestries and Byzantine enamels proved particularly influential during this period, most of which were likely discovered during Rouault’s extensive readings and historical studies during the course of the 1920s. In the present composition, the intensity of the sitter’s pose, the sharp angles used to capture his profile, and the almost hieratic air that radiates from his form as he fills the entire frame, recall the representation of Roman emperors on ancient coinage or religious figures in Medieval icons.
With its richly impastoed surface and lively play of luminous color, meanwhile, Le dernier romantique stands as a showcase of Rouault’s virtuosic painterly technique during this period of his career. Building the composition in dense layers of thick, colourful, slab-like brushstrokes, he explores the seductive qualities of oil paint, allowing the surface to become a terrain in its own right, an agglomeration of material that adds weight and substantiality to its subject. This sumptuous, vigorous surface texture also reveals a new vibrancy in Rouault’s approach to color—superimposing layer upon layer of richly-hued pigment onto the canvas, the artist achieves an intense luminosity in his palette, as the endless undercoats of differing hues subtly interact with one another to achieve an extraordinary depth of color, ultimately creating the impression that the painting is lit from within. This, combined with the strong, angular dark outlines used to demarcate the figure, recall Rouault’s early training as a stained glass artist, a vocation he pursued for five years before making the transition to printmaking and painting.
At the time of Le dernier romantique’s creation, Rouault was enjoying an unprecedented level of international success in his artistic career. In 1937, his paintings were included in the exhibition Les maîtres de l’art Indépendant at the Petit Palais, while in New York, Pierre Matisse organised a highly successful one-man show of his recent paintings. The exhibition at the Petit Palais attracted the attention of the art critic Lionello Venturi, who later dedicated an enthusiastic monograph to the artist. However, the first owner of the painting was a figure who had long been a supporter of Rouault’s work—the influential art dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Vollard’s immediate enthusiasm for Rouault’s work upon their first meeting in 1907 prompted him to purchase the entire contents of Rouault’s studio, and within a decade he had become the exclusive dealer of the artist’s work, a professional relationship the pair maintained until Vollard’s death in 1939.

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