Georges Rouault (French 1871 - 1958)
Miserere: Artist’s Preface
I dedicate this work to my master, Gustave Moreau, and to my valiant and beloved mother who with unstinting patience watched over and aided my early efforts when I wandered at the crossroads, an ill-equipped young pilgrim of art. Let me add that both, in their own way, were endowed with the same smiling and encouraging nature, seldom found in these times of bitterness and offense in which we seem to live today.
Most of the subjects date from 1914-1918. They were originally drawn in Indian ink, and later, at Ambroise Vollard’s request, were transformed to copper plates. It was apparently desirable that a first impression on copper should be made. With these as a starting point, I have tried, taking infinite pains, to preserve the rhythm and quality of the original drawing. I worked unceasingly on each plate, with varying success, using many different tools. There is no secret about my methods. Dissatisfied, I reworked the plates again and again, sometimes making as many as twelve to fifteen successive states; for I wished them as far as possible to be equal in quality.
The engravings were printed under my careful supervision and were completed in 1927. Later Vollard had all the plates cancelled. After waiting twenty long years for their publication, which was postponed for different reasons, I was fortunate enough to recover the engravings in 1947, and entrusted their publication to the Etoile Filante, Paris.
It was planned that Andre Suares should write an accompanying text, unfortunately he was unable to do so.
The death of Vollard, the war, the Occupation and its consequences, and finally my lawsuit caused infinite delays. Though ever hopeful, there have been black moments when I despaired that these engravings, to which I have always attached a great significance, would ever be published. I rejoice that this has come to pass before I vanish from this planet.
If injustice has been shown toward Ambroise Vollard, let us remember that he had taste and a passion for making beautiful books, regardless of time; but it would have taken three centuries to have completed the works which he wanted, without considering our human limitations, to entrust to the artist.
-George Rouault, Paris, 1948
There are 58 plates in the series, which fall into two sections: Miserere, the artist’s plea for divine compassion, and Guerre, his castigation of man’s ultimate folly. Originally engraved between 1918 and 1928, they were exhibited for the first time in 1948 by Etoile Filante in Paris in a limited edition of 450 copies.
The etchings of the Miserere represent a continuation of the style which the artist practiced before World War I, but with certain modifications. The theme focuses more on the sufferings of humanity rather than the horror of the world. The impulse is pity more than condemnation. The sufferings of Christ are interwoven with those of man, often in explicit juxtaposition. Rouault wrote out titles by hand so they could be reproduced under each plate.
The second half of the series, entitled Guerre, is more replete with horrors. In some designs the parallel between the sufferings of Christ and those of man is emphasized but in a slightly different way, as a journey by man through the dark night in which the final release is witnessed through the sacrifice of Christ.
The portfolio of unbound sheets was printed on wove paper showing the Ambroise Vollard watermark. The colophon page accompanying the set is signed and numbered but none of the individual images were signed separately.