Signed G Rouault (lower right)
Edward Alden Jewell states the following about the early years of Rouault's artistic production: "Though not 'officially' a Fauve, Rouault showed with the group and became popularly identified with it. Like that of the Fauves, Rouault's was in those days an art of violent expressionism. And like theirs it represented a revolt against the stuffy academic standards of the day. But Rouault also walked apart. For one thing, he differed from the Fauves in that his art of that period was not decorative. Instead, it was passionately dedicated, as the art of the Fauves in the main was not, to pregnant social issues" (E.A. Jewell, Rouault, London, 1947, p. 8).
Jewell continues, "From about 1917 onward the principal paint medium is oil. And when Rouault elects this medium he does so not because it is 'heavier,' but simply because it lends itself to the creation of textures and effects not otherwise to be contrived. The loaded brush dragged across a specified area can pile up rich plump sonorities, as may be observed in that memorable masterpiece, The Old King, or in The Wounded Clown."
"Often the piling up of paint is done, actually, in layers; for Rouault has long made it a practice to hold on to paintings over a considerable stretch of years, turning back to them repeatedly, brush in hand. This procedure makes it in many cases difficult or quite impossible to date work, even work that bears a hallmark of one period rather than of another" (ibid., p. 11).
In the present work, a plethora of layers of pigment can be discerned in the composition. The build-up of translucent and opaque paints creates a three-dimensional image that is emblematic of Rouault's oeuvre. The use of cobalt blue in the background complemented by deep swaths of black ink to delineate the circus performer are signature elements of his painting created during the height of his artistic output.
Fig. 1: The artist in his studio circa 1950.
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