Preface to the Miserere Series1


I dedicate this work to my master, Gustave Moreau, and also to my valiant and beloved mother who at the cost of extreme hardship facilitated my first endeavors at the crossroads where, as a young pilgrim very poorly endowed, I strayed. I should add that, although not of the same class, they both had the same smiling, encouraging kindliness, remote from the insolences and abuses which seem to prevail in these days.

The greater number of these subjects date from 1914 to 1918. They were first executed in the form of drawings in India ink, and later transformed into paintings in accordance with the wises of Ambroise Vollard. He then had all the subjects transferred on to copper. It was desirable, apparently, that the copper should first receive the impression of my drawing. From that point on, I painstakingly tried to preserve the initial rhythm and draughtsmanship.

On each plate, more or less felicitously, without ceasing or pausing, I worked with different tools; there is no secret about my methods. Never satisfied, I resumed each subject endlessly, sometimes in as many as twelve or fifteen successive states; I should have liked them all to be of equal quality. I readily admit that I became attached to them, and that I was not insensitive to the desire of an American ambassador who wished to have some of the copper plates plated with gold and set in the wall at the embassy.

The impressions, which I carefully supervised, were completed in 1927, and later Ambroise Vollard had the plates cancelled.

After waiting twenty years for the appearance of this work which various circumstances delayed, I had the good fortune to recover the engravings in 1947, and was able to entrust the publication of the volume to the firm of L’Etoile Filante.

There had been some question of André Suarès writing a text, but unfortunately he was unable to accomplish this.

The death of Ambroise Vollard, the war, the occupation and its consequences, and finally my lawsuit were all the causes of indefinite delay. Notwithstanding a certain fundamental optimism, there were dark hours when I doubted that I should ever see the publication of this work, finished so long ago and always of the greatest importance in my opinion. I rejoice in the fact hat I have reached my goal before I vanish from this planet.

If injustice has been shown Ambroise Vollard, let us agree that he had taste and a keen desire to make beautiful books without breaking any speed records, but it would have taken three centuries to ring to perfection the various works and paintings with which, in utter disregard of earthly limitations, he wished to burden the pilgrim.

 
Form, color, harmony
Oasis or mirage
For the eyes, the heart, and the spirit
Toward the moving ocean of pictorial appeal

“Tomorrow will be beautiful,” said the shipwrecked man
Before he disappeared beneath the sullen horizon

Peace seems never to reign
Over this anguished world
Of shams and shadows

Jesus on the cross will tell you better than I,
Jeanne in her brief and sublime replies at her trial
As well as other saints and martyrs
Obscure or consecrated.

 

Georges Rouault


1 Georges Rouault, Miserere, with an introduction by Monroe Wheeler (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1952), 7-8.

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