At the age of 14 Rouault began working as an apprentice in a stained glass workshop. The bold colours and thick black outlines seen here are derived from the medieval stained glass window designs which he restored. The rich palette and impastoed surface also show the influence of the Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, who taught Rouault at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts between 1891 and 1895. It was here that Rouault met fellow-students Matisse, Manguin and Marquet, with whom he founded the Salon d’Automme. He exhibited expressive figurative and landscape works with a bright palette and strong lines at each of the Fauvist exhibitions.
Although he remained closely associated with the Fauves, Rouault’s work began to take a very different direction at the start of the 20th century. After 1902, when he was stricken with a serious illness, his paintings began to reflect an intense concern for human suffering. Moreover, from 1904 Rouault became influenced by the writing of the Roman Catholic and socialist novelist Leon Bloy. Born into poverty himself, he took as his subject matter social outcasts including peasants, prostitutes, clowns and labourers. Like Van Gogh, he used the human figure as a powerful symbol of moral qualities, strongly believing that art should be a “moving expression of what man feels when he finds himself face to face with himself and humanity”.
'Paysannes à la besace' is characteristic of George Rouault’s paintings from 1910-1919 in which he depicted peasants working within the French landscape. In evocative works such as this he used a highly personal form of Expressionism with which to capture what he recognised as the “daily struggle” of man.
Estate of the Artist
Hotel Drouot, Paris, 10 June 1981, lot 21
Bernard Chevry, Paris
Private Collection (acquired from the above c. 1995)
Private Collection (acquired from the above December 1999)
Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 2005, lot 366
Private Collection, London (purchased from the above sale)
Isabelle Rouault, Rouault: l’ouevre peint, vol. 1, 1988, Montecarlo, Editions André Sauret, no. 17, p. 133