Wood Engraving by Georges Rouault (Les Visages [The Faces])
Les Visages [The Faces]
Wood engraving, 1932
Restrike by The Collector’s Guild
Gift of Mac McPherson, 2000
Often the rich black contours characteristic of the paintings of Georges Rouault (1871–1958) are attributed to the influence of his apprenticeship beginning at the age of fourteen to a glass painter. And indeed the vibrant colors separated by expressive strokes of black evoke the same effect seen when pieces of colored glass are joined by ribbons of lead. The same could be said, however, about the mediums of woodcut and wood engraving in which the entire block is inked to print black except where wood has been excised. The work of the gouge, knife, or burin is to allow the light of the paper to show leaving delineations of undulating width untouched and black.
Les Visages follows a composition used by Rouault a number of times during the 1920s and 1930s in portraying trios of judges and clowns. Ambiguous details of those paintings and this wood engraving make the identity of the figures less important than the relationships between them. The motif appears throughout history as three graces, three fates, three Maji, three crosses, and other trinitarian ideas conceived as allegorical expressions. At the École des Beaux-Arts which he attended from 1891 Rouault became a favored pupil of the symbolist painter Gustav Moreau, whose paintings were steeped in an “archeological allegory” allowing imagination and poetry to surpass strictly historical depictions.
A monumental suite of engravings, Miserere, which Rouault worked on from 1916 to 1927, can be viewed in Bridwell Library Special Collections. Another item in the Bridwell collection is Passion with text by André Suarès. Rouault contributed a set of paintings on paper that were transformed into colored aquatints for the book.
The donor of Les Visages, J. Mac McPherson, is a retired member of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and former staff member of Bridwell Library.