Georges Rouault, au pays de la soif et de la peur (In the Country of Thirst and Fear), Plate 26, from the Miserere series, photogravure, 1926.
Plate 26 is often grouped with a number of depictions of the spiritual state of France.1 Immediately before, in Plate 25, a French everyman figure named Jean-Francois looks forlornly down at his hands with the caption “Jean-Francois never sings alleluia.” The figure’s pain, this caption suggests, is related to his lack of spirituality manifested in “alleluia.” Therefore, the scene is set for Plate 26, in which two figures in a boat turn away from a hut with a tree beside it. The figure in the back of the boat pushes it forward and towards the viewer using a long staff while the other is seated and looks out from the print and at the audience. Both figures seem oblivious to the clearer skies and fruitful tree away from which they are moving. The hut with a keyhole-like opening and a crescent-shaped crown suggests a religious space and is reflected in the water while the tree beside it and others along the banks are not. The edges of the image disappear into darkness at the sides and corners, suggesting that the image is somehow surreal or seen from the outside looking in.
The caption contributes to our understanding of the print, and translates roughly to In the Country of Thirst and Fear. The two figures, though surrounded by water so clear the hut reflects perfectly into it, are still somehow in the land of thirst. In describing a land of thirst, Rouault may be alluding to Isaiah 44:3 which reads “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground,” and to John 7:38, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” Meanwhile, Joel 2:21 reads, “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things.” A land of thirst and fear is not, then, a land of Christian faith.
1 Frank and Dorothy Getlein, The Bite of the Print: Satire and Irony in Woodcuts, Engravings, Etchings, Lithographs, and Serigraphs (New York: Bramhall House, 1963), 212.