Born 1871, Paris, France
Died 1958, Paris, France
Oil on canvas
16 7/8 x 12 1/4 in.
Accession date: 1989
The Dr. and Mrs. John J. Mayers Collection
A painter, etcher, lithographer and illustrator, Georges Rouault was apprenticed to a stained-glass artist as a teenager. The medium’s characteristic vivid colors and strong outline stayed with the artist and inspired his art throughout his career. Le Soldat epitomizes Rouault’s distinctive manner of breaking up his paintings into shards of glowing color outlined in thick black lines. What looks like a canvas quickly painted with a pallet knife and thick paint, was in actuality an obsessive and vigorous application of thin, layered colors, built up to dense, encrusted planes of paint. The flattened figure of a man in profile is a simple composition but with profound meaning and representation. Le Soldat is a reference to the soldiers that surrounded Jesus Christ as he carried the cross to his crucifixion, as the artist always sought to represent divine grace and/or the miracle of redemption in all of his art.
Rouault was something of an anomaly within 20th-century Modernism, as he held strong Catholic convictions that informed all of his work. He was associated with a church movement in France that called for a return to the religious orthodoxy of Medieval times. The paintings from early in his career depict those at the fringes of society, particularly prostitutes and circus performers with moralizing themes on sin and redemption and later to more specific devotion and religious themes and always in the current trend of Expressionism.