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PROPERTY FROM THE SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM, SOLD TO BENEFIT FUTURE ACQUISITIONS

Georges Rouault
PIERROT
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 356,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT
214

PROPERTY FROM THE SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM, SOLD TO BENEFIT FUTURE ACQUISITIONS

Georges Rouault
PIERROT
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 356,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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Georges Rouault
1871 - 1958
PIERROT
Bears the signature G. Rouault  (lower left)
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
39 3/8 by 25 5/8 in.
100 by 65.1 cm
Painted in 1931-39.
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Provenance

Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Martin Fabiani (by descent from the above)
Albert Skira, Switzerland
Galerie Moos, Geneva
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (acquired by 1946-49)
Perls Galleries, New York (acquired from the above on September 16, 1949)
Morton D. May, Saint Louis (acquired from the above in 1949)
A bequest of the above in 1983

Exhibited

Los Angeles, Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Rouault, 1940, no. 6
New York, Buchholz Gallery, Painting and Sculpture from Europe, 1947, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, Perls Galleries, Georges Rouault: Paintings, 1949, no. 17, illustrated in the catalogue
Saint Louis, Saint Louis Art Museum, Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. May, 1960, no. 96, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

Bernard Dorival & Isabelle Rouault, Rouault, L'Oeuvre peint, vol. II, Monaco, 1988, no. 2173, illustrated p. 198

Catalogue Note

Painted between 1931 and 1939, Pierrot is a superb example of one of Georges Rouault's most expressive and beloved series. Inspired by Ambroise Vollard, who had commissioned him to make etchings and woodcuts for the book Cirque de l'étoile filante (published in 1938), Rouault’s interest in the world of the circus found its greatest outlet in his art during the 1930s. Rouault was particularly drawn to the clown Pierrot and his expressive potential as a subject for portraiture. A pensive and melancholy stock character from the Commedia dell'Arte who pines for the love of Columbine, in the 19th century the character of Pierrot was lifted out of this circumscribed world and into the larger realm of myth. Popularized in depictions by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee and Jacques Lipchitz, as well as Rouault, the figure of Pierrot became an alter-ego for the artist; an alienated, avant-garde philosopher fraught with existential anguish and scarred by amorous disappointments.

For Rouault, these nomadic clowns represented innocence, soulful sensitivity and naiveté, and were a release from his focus on the darker images of life. His series of Pierrot portraits is marked by an emotional immediacy that is unique both within his oeuvre and the spectrum of modern art. Lionello Venturi writes, "When he paints clowns, the grotesque becomes amiable, even lovable...colors grow rich and resplendent, almost as if the artist, laying aside his crusader's arms for a moment, were relaxing in the light of the sun and letting it flood into his work" (Lionello Venturi, Rouault, Lausanne, 1959, pp. 21 & 51).

In the present work, Rouault combats the potential frivolity of the clown as a subject with a Cloisonnist style in which both the figure and the stage set with red curtains behind him are built up using thick sweeping strokes of impasto in jewel-like colors and delineated with bold black outlines. Evoking the imagery and feel of traditional stained glass, Rouault's Pierrot is thus imbued with a spiritual depth. Rouault employs boundless expressionist brushstrokes that add his quintessential texture and deconstruct forms to the very edge of abstraction.

The previous owner of this work was philanthropist and heir of the May Department Stores Company, Morton D. May, whose collection included masterpieces by German and French Expressionists. May served as a commissioner at the Saint Louis Art Museum for eight years, and upon his death bequeathed his collection to the museum. 

According to a letter from Isabelle Rouault to a curator of the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1987, the signature on the present work was likely an addition by Ambroise Vollard when it was in his collection. 

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