Georges Rouault, Solitaire, en cette vie d’embûches et de malices (Alone, in this life of snares and malice), Plate 5, from the Miserere series, photogravure, 1926
One of a number of male nudes in this series, Rouault refers again to the suffering Christ depicted only two plates before. Like the earlier depiction of Christ, the figure slumps as he sits with his head in his hand, looking down at the ground. Like many of Rouault’s similar images, the figure sits in an undefined space, though a faint horizon is visible. The hazed light surrounding the figure emphasizes his form, but is also oppressive as the darkness seems to close in on him. Rouault seems to have been especially interested in the rough geometry of the body, and builds the figure from rectangles, triangles, and circles that are emphasized by the artist’s characteristic dark linework.1 Notably, the dark triangle marking the tension in the figure’s neck heightens the sense of the figure’s anguish and directs the viewer’s eye towards the man’s downturned face.
This work, like others in the series, emphasizes the overwhelming suffering in the world. However, in referring back to depictions of Christ in the previous plate, Rouault suggests that earthly suffering can be seen as a deep connection to Christ, thereby helping the individual with his spiritual journey. This theme would be discussed repeatedly throughout the series. The fifth plate is notably connected to the following work entitled Ne sommes-nous pas forçats? (Are we not convicts?). As an introduction to a series of characterizations of all humankind, plate 5 sets the tone of the human vices that appear immediately after it. The theme of suffering can then be relieved by the promise of beauty and hope in Plate 9 (not on display).
1 Frank and Dorothy Getlein, George Rouault’s Miserere (Wilwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1963), 37.