The title of this work, according to Wofsy’s Catalogue Raisonne, is “Femme Nue, vers la gauche” [Naked Woman, to the Left]; it is elsewhere titled “Fille au Grand Chapeau” [Woman with a Very Large Hat]. This work is plate number 22 from Ambroise Vollard’s famous Les Réincarnations du Père Ubu.
French artist Georges Rouault was a pioneering expressionist painter and a major figure in modern printmaking. His work is immediately recognizable for the thick black brushstrokes that outline their subjects. But rather than create pleasing “armchair” pictures like those of many of his contemporaries, Rouault applied his dramatic and intense painterly style to religious subjects, clowns, and circus performers, using these motifs to reflect on religion, morality, and modern life.
In 1896, French playwright Alfred Jarry premiered his play, Ubu Roi (“Ubu the King”). It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, causing a near-riot in the audience. Ubu Roi is a comic and bizarre play. Ubu Roi is infantile, glutinous, dishonest, greedy, a bully, an ingrate, a coward, and abusive of those weaker and even more cowardly than he. And, most of all, Jarry’s Ubu Roi is a metaphor for Jarry’s view of the modern man. It is a satire of the exercise of power and greed by the bourgeoisie abusing the authority engendered by their success. Many audience members were horrified by the childishness, obscenity, and disrespect permeating the play, but to others it was an event of revolutionary importance. The play became infamous and its author an avant-garde hero. Indeed, it is now recognized as a pivotal event to the start of Twentieth Century modernism and Surrealism.
Parisian art publisher and dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was fascinated—even obsessed—with Ubu Roi. In 1932, Vollard published his own sequel to Jarry’s Ubu Roi, the Réincarnations de Père Ubu. Vollard recruited Rouault to prepare illustrations for it. Vollard’s version of the story contained twenty-two illustrations by Rouault.
Rouault’s illustrations for Réincarnations de Père Ubu marked Rouault’s earliest use of photogravure techniques, and display a combination of etching and aquatint. He began working on it in 1918; he returned to the plate and produced the final version in 1928, but it was not published until 1932, when an edition of 225 pencil-signed impressions was made along with 305 portfolios for Reincarnations de Père Ubu, containing suites of the etchings on Arches and Rives papers. This example, however, was from an edition of 210 from reduced format plates published by Antoine Vollard in 1955 on fine Vélin paper (which, interestingly, is almost purely aquatint, without the etched and engraved lines of the 1932 edition). This example is one of the 100 sets of the 1955 edition which were numbered in Roman numerals (in addition to the 110 sets were numbered in Arabic numerals for the Société Normande des Amis du Livre).
Examples of this work are held in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and many other important museums.