Georges Rouault, L’aveugle parfois a consolé le voyant (Sometimes the blind man have comforted those who see), Plate 55, from the Miserere series, 1926
Plate 55 continues the theme of hope in the final images of the Miserere series.1 Before this plate is an image of the Virgin, whose anguished expression is bravely raised to the sky, in Plate 53. Meanwhile three rising skeletons signify the hope in the resurrection of the body in Plate 54.2 This idea is fleshed out in Plate 55, as the viewer now confronts two figures who walk in desolation. This is the last print in the series showing naked human figures, as the final three prints are dedicated to the Virgin and Child (Plate 56) and Christ (Plates 57-58).
As the caption suggests, the print plays with the idea of seeing. Rouault inverts the biblical theme of “the blind leading the blind” in the Gospel of Matthew. The blinded figure on the left consoles and leads his companion who can see. They appear weary and haggard, as the blind man lumbers forward while the other limply follows. In spite of the despondent atmosphere, the blind man’s lifted head—which echoes the Virgin’s head in Plate 53 and the ghoulish optimism of the skeletons in Plate 54—suggests a glimmer of hope and reminds the viewer to look towards God for salvation, not to the earthly world as his companion’s downcast gaze suggests.3 Thus, although he cannot physically see, the spiritually enlightened figure leads the spiritually blind.
Like the other prints in the series, this plate exhibits prominent black contours that articulate the limbs of the bodies. There is strong contrast between dark and light, as a combination of sugar-lift and traditional aquatint render the lower half of their bodies dark. Additional tonal gradation is achieved through drypoint, which can be found on the blind man’s fingers, and etched lines on their shoulders. The light source from the top left of composition highlights their muscles and adds a sense of volume. This light is also symbolic, as it suggests a sense of hope in the midst of darkness.
1 Holly Flora and Soo Yun Kang, This Anguished World of Shadows: Georges Rouault’s Miserere Et Guerre (New York: Museum of Biblical Art, 2006), 27.
2 Frank and Dorothy Getlein, George Rouault’s Miserere (Wilwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1963), 137-138.
3 Ibid., 139.