ROUAU LT and BRAQUE
Representing Heaven and Earth,
By Iris Conlay
DOMINATING the centre gallery of the re-opened Tate Gallery in London is the Rouault
painting of Christ, which 1 have often had occasion to refer to in this column. I make no apology for referring to it again now as it is not only the culmination of the collection of Rouaults hanging in the Tate, but 1 also consider it is the most important religious painting of our times. Go often to this collection and stand before this figure of suffering. The bent look, the deeply grave face, the narrow shoulders and the passive arms hanging without tension or resistance from those shoulders—all these are merely the features of a great and simple painting of the Man of Sorrows, a man acquainted with the mountainous horrors of twenty centuries of man's desperate mistakes.
PROPHECY FULFILLED At one time Rouault was considered a prophet of disaster. Now that we have all seen in the flesh what the artist showed its pre-figured in paint, his sense of reality is doubly amazing. In this collection the penitential procession of typical Rouault characters are all represented—the terrible prostitutes who even frightened the painter himself when he saw what he had done to mis-shape humanity and to pervert the instinct of have; the judges bloated with self-interest; the clowns, tragic symbols of lost people in a careless world, and the quiet workmen in huddled groups of puzzled acceptance. The landscapes are all blackened, streets are deserted and factories desolated. It is as though Rouault had chosen to set his pictures all at the third hour of the Crucifixion when the sun was darkened and the graves gave up their ghosts.
But although there is -a mood of relentless horror in everything of Rouault's, there is also hope. His is the voice in the wilderness calling men to prayer and to repentance. In the deep-set chambers of the world's despair Rouatilt is like a belt sounding a sombre lamentation, but the sadness is nearly always lit up with brilliant colour of jewel-like intensity,_ symbolic of the dawn of salvation.
THE BRIC OF BRAQUE
Whereas Rouault sees Heaven in the stews of Paris and gives his clowns a Christ-like Countenance, using the whole physical world to express the spiritual, Braque, who is shown on the opposite wall of the same gallery, is only concerned with material things, and preferably with the humblest material things—with pots and jugs and plates and tables. and with lots and lots of guitars. Braque is a real virtuoso. With his tiny theme of domestic utensils he can create a series of decorative masterpieces which are magical in their effect.
Cdzanne, too, with his trees tenuously living on fi few brush strokes only. achieves miracles of beauty that will long haunt those who spend a title time before them.
The rest of the available space in the Tate Gallety is given to beloved favourites of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Mr. Vincent Massey's selection of contemporary British painting for Canada (some lovely Paul Nash work hero which England will miss), and a sprinkling of English romantics on the grand scale. All the galleries have a new spring-like decor in
pastel pink or blue which is particularly gracious to the pictures.
STANLEY SPENCER An important religious painter in this country is Stanley Spencer, who has always been an enigma to the art critic and a stumbling block to the orthodox churchman. Recently a magnificent Phaeton book,* thick with illustrations of all phases of Spencer's' work, has appeared, with an introduction by Elizabeth Rothenstein, which goes a long way towards explaining the artist's mind to his puzzled public. It does this by a graceful and sympathetic account of Spencer's childhood background and development so that, from a picture of the man, it is possible to understand the work. At no point does Mrs. Rothenstein become dogmatic or possessive about the truth, which, after all, is the artist's alone, but is content like a true teacher to interpret rather than to force opinions on her followers.
* Stanley Spencer, by Elizabeth Rothenstein (Phaidon Press, 20s.)