Georges-Henri Rouault was born on 27 May 1871, in Paris. Rouault had an early exposure to art through his grandfather, who owned a collection of Honoré Daumier lithographs. In 1885, he enrolled in an evening course at the École des Arts Décoratifs, and shortly afterward was apprenticed in a glazier’s workshop, where he would work until 1890; the vivid colours and dark contouring of stained glass had a major influence on his later career as a painter. Rouault studied under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1891, with Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet amongst his fellow pupils. Rouault exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1897 and 1898. Upon Moreau’s death in 1898, Rouault was nominated as the curator for the Musée Moreau.


Rouault’s early style was academic, though his palette displayed a Symbolist influence from Moreau. This however began to change in 1898 as, having encountered the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne, he began to paint with an increasingly Expressionist verve and lyricism. Circus performers and vignettes of everyday life were amongst his most popular subjects at this time, with the majority executed in watercolour or oil on paper. Rouault exhibited alongside the ‘Fauves’ in the 1905 Salon d’Automne. He also exhibited at Galerie Berthe Weill in 1906, and had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Druet in 1910.


During the First World War, Rouault would increasingly turn towards the medium of oil; he developed his mature style of monumental forms outlined in thick black lines, rendered in a rich and sensuous impasto. Rouault’s subjects also became increasingly religious – he had become an ardent Roman Catholic circa 1895 – and he produced a series of paintings based on the Passion of Christ during the 1930s. In the inter-war years, he also devoted time to engravings, at the behest of Ambroise Vollard, and did set and costume design for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1929. During the Second World War, he returned to circus motifs, producing a celebrated series of paintings of clowns, as well as still-lifes of flowers. Rouault was the subject of major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1945), and Musée National d’Art Moderne de Paris (1953), and he represented France at the XXIV Venice Biennale (1948). Rouault died on 13 February 1958, in Paris.


Rouault’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Menil Collection, Houston; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Kunstmuseum Basel; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London; the Tate Collection, London.