A rare and important work, formerly in the collection of the Hollywood actor Edward G. Robinson Le tribunal de province was painted at the pinnacle of Rouault’s career in the late 1930s. Having studied under the tutelage of Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs beginning in 1890, it was not however until 1937 that the artist’s public reputation grew, when forty-two paintings were shown as part of the large Exposition des Artistes Indépendents, staged in connection with the Paris Exposition Universelle.
During this time Rouault created only a handful of his “judgement” paintings, including Le tribunal de province, which remain the most
sophisticated and complex works of the artist’s career, and encapsulate incredibly poignant themes. These were fostered by Rouault’s reading of the novel La femme pauvre by the fervent Roman Catholic author Léon Bloy. Bloy’s preaching of spiritual revival through poverty and suffering, along with themes such as that of the judge and the condemned man, burned a lasting impression in the artist’s memory.
Given firsthand access to the court by the Deputy Public Prosecutor, Rouault was taken aback by the arbitrary nature by which judgements were made. He put himself in the place of the defendant, lawyer and judge, and gave them all the same red, bloated faces. 'No other painter of his time pored over these blemishes on the face of society.
None used drawing and colour as he did to reveal to us, without acrimony, our unfathomable existence' (in P. Courthion, Georges Rouault, New York, 1977, p. 16).
In his depiction of Le tribunal de Province, we see the imposing form of the judge, flanked by his two assessors, prevailing over the court from behind his desk. 'If I made such lamentable figures of the judges, it was because I no doubt revealed the anguish I felt at the sight of a human being who has to judge other men. If it so happened that I confused the head of the judge with that of the prisoner, this error merely betrayed my own confusion...I cannot condemn the judges themselves' (quoted in B. Dorival & I. Rouault, Rouault: L’oeuvre peint, vol. I, Monte-Carlo, 1988, p. 74).