I first encountered the work of Georges Rouault through the University of Chicago’sprogram of allowing its students to take home nicely framed art prints for a year. The bright colors and dramatic lines in his painting of Christ caught my eye among the peaceful landscapes, sparkling Impressionists, and abstract Cubist paintings. His paintings catch my eye – and stop me in my tracks – whenever I encounter them in museums. His figures express deep emotions, and realities about the human experience.
I recently learned that much of this work was related to a contract to produce two volumes of prints. Ink drawings and paintings were photographically transferred to copper plates, but Rouault did not think this process represented the depth of the originals. Over a period of years, he reworked the copper plates using sandpaper, many tools, and etching with acid to achieve the depth needed for the central theme: human suffering.
Frank and Dorothy Geltein’s Miserere (1964) interprets and explains each print – a marvelous source. But the actual reproductions suffer from the age of the book and the much lower printing quality of forty years ago. The more I read, and tried to see the detail in the blurry photos, the more I longed to see the real thing.
I was delighted to find that Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art has a complete set of the Miserere prints – and they are available for online viewing via Flickr. While the museum posts a slideshow, it’s really impossible to understand the prints without their titles – and the sequence of titles that describes the evolving story. The detail of the entire set lets you view each one individually with its title and other information.
“Miserere presents a gallery of scenes and characters. Many of them—clowns, kings, and prostitutes—are familiar inhabitants of Rouault’s paintings. But the central recurring figure is that of Christ, from the first title plate that resembles some ancient death monument with the bowed head of Christ in the bottom half, to the image of the Man of Sorrows on Veronica’s Veil in the last plate. Rouault’s caption for this plate, “It is by his stripes that we are healed.” (Is. 53:5), suggests that all the suffering, all the blindness and loneliness, all the wish for love and the fact of war, all that has gone before is compassed in the broken body of Christ. For Rouault the divine face reflects suffering, compassion, and finally hope.”