By IRIS CONLAY
ROUAULT, by Lionello Venturi (58 colour plates: Skim monograph, Zwemmer, 45s.). ROUAULT, the painter, who expressed his intensity of feeling about .the goodness and the rightness of Christianity by portraying the badness and the wrongness of humanity, died last year aged 86 in isolation as he had lived. Yet he was neither neglected nor misunderstoodhe just did not belong.
Artistically he was neither true expressionist nor true fauvist, although he had links with both movements. The worldly feared his fiercely uncompromising social conscience and the religious were shocked because they could not discern anything " devotional" in his work.
His art was bound for museums because it got a name for being uncomfortable for living with and disturbing for prayer.
Faith as the root
BUT Rouault is both a great religious painter and an artist of our times-prc-cminently both -and Lionello Venturi's text is as understanding about the driving force of Rouatiles Faith as it is illuminating on his modern approach to his art. In his introduction Venturi asserts that Ronault's pure, unswerving, austere Faith is at the root of everything he did.
He is described as being familiar with anguish, but not with doubt. In our times this is a rare state of mind; it isolated Rouault.
" In his search for the fitting expression of his Faith. Rouault went through some dramatic phases," writes Yenturi. " Before 1903, when he had not freed himself from academic form, he expressed his religious feelings in terms of physical beauty.
" During this period he practised sacred art of a kind which, as it happened, was also a commercial success; everyone delighted in his angels. After 1903 he was in no mood for angels, his eyes had been opened to the sordid side of life, to the triumph of vice and ugliness.
War on evil
.11E suspected himself of hypocricy in painting angels, of glossing over the evils of the world, of supressing the truth. For his Faith to remain intact he had to wage war on evil.
"Not angels but prostitutes were now the subject of his pictures and the image of Christ as the divinely appointed victim of man's violence and cruelty to man." Here in brief is the explanation of Rouault's life and the reason that compelled him to explore the depths of man's degradation.
From Rouault's violent years Venturi then leads the reader into the comparative serenity of his old age when, like an inspired mystic, he painted imaginary landscapes mostly seen in the light of the setting sun in which the descending shadow of night symbolises the tragedy of Christ-sacred landscapes, as Venturi calls them-of apocalyptic vision.
Sacred art today
CH more, however, is dis
cussed than Rouault in these pages. The author reflects on the whole subject of religious and sacred art in our times. He believes that Daumier and Courbet secularised French art and made it independent of religion.
Since then, although sacred subjects have been illustrated, they do not inspire or condition artists. Rouault was the exception. Religious inspiration was the creative force he enlisted in the service not
only of revolutionary form but also of moral reform.
The tragedy is that Rouault had no followers. He walked alone and he has no equals.
Venturi concludes this deeply sympathetic study. which is far more important than a mere cornmentary of the plates (it is increasingly rare to find an art book now in which plates and text complement each other as they do here), with an admirable bibliography and a useful index.