Vitraux d'Art E. Rault
Rennes (Brittany) France
André Rault (1912-1997) and his brother Paul (1909-1962) are considered the master artists of a family that has been producing stained glass in Rennes since the late 1800s. Their father Emmanuel (active 1895-1936) founded the studio in 1898 after apprenticing with the firm of Lecomte et Coline, which he acquired at that time.
The atelier has made innumerable restorations and created original designs in well over a thousand churches. Their work is prominent throughout the large region of Brittany, as well as in other parts of France, and in more than one hundred installations in Canada and the United States.
The Rault brothers were born in Rennes, the leading city of Brittany. Like their father, they became maître verriers according to the ancient French tradition of apprenticeship and formal training, studying at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Rennes, (where Paul Gauguin had been a local hero). Their distinguished accomplishments began early, with independent projects, and collaborations with mainstream artists, such as one in Paris with Maurice Denis (College Picpus, c. 1930). As young men they were named Best Stained Glass Artists in France at Paris expositions in 1932 and again in 1937.
André and Paul Rault about 1955.
Courtesy Rault Archives
The Raults' excitement over the newly developed thick glass known as dalle de verre led them to endless experiments with its decorative possibilities. Dalle set in conventional lead cames (channels) became a characteristic of their work, adding a three-dimensional element to what had always been a two-dimensional medium. While other studios set the heavy dalle in cement matrix, filling the gaps to the glass surface, the Raults insisted on using lead cames, allowing the faceted edges to reveal their full depth, and to refract the maximum amount of light possible. When backlit by sunlight the radiance of their dalle compositions is unmistakable.
Their style often manifests a fusion of medieval religious imagery with modern feeling, incorporating the deep textures of the ancient stained glass masters with a 20th century directness, and a freshness that was sometimes lost in the elaborate styles of the 19th century. They attempted admirably to re-create the famed blues of Chartres. Elements of 20th-century art movements such as Expressionism, Modernism and Art Deco are frequent in their work: their decorative motifs and symbol details are more likely to suggest Henri Matisse than William Morris. In addition to the figurative works often demanded by clients they created semi-abstract and non-figurative designs. Their modern interpretations of medieval Christian symbolism are especially charming.
The Raults made major restorations in many of the great churches of France after both the First and Second World Wars. This extensive exposure to the rich history of French glass technique, in which ancient glass is required to be authentically replicated beginning with sand itself, led the Raults to a deep understanding of the technical and artistic practices necessary to achieve a wide variety of styles and effects. After the Second World War, a large building was constructed in central Rennes to accommodate the studios, furnaces and workshops: by 1947 the Rault Studio had grown to 98 employees, from designers and artists to furnace workers, glass-blowers and assemblers.
Sacred Symbols Transept Windows. c. 1960.
Pontmain Basilica, France. Photo P. Burns
As the European churches regained their pre-war composure in the late 1940s, the Raults looked abroad for new clients: Canada presented an opportunity. The Montreal church supply house of Desmarais & Robitaille became their agents in Eastern Canada, where over 30 installations costing as much as 15 million francs were eventually completed, in Montréal, Québec City, Louiseville, Yamachiche, Chicoutimi, Alma, Amos and other Québec towns. Work was also commissioned in Ontario, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, and New York state.
In Western Canada, Burns-Hanley Church Supplies of Regina, Saskatchewan represented Rault Frères, as the company was known at that time. Every year, from 1949 to 1977, André Rault would travel to the West to meet with potential clients in churches and convents; they would subsequently be sent beautifully coloured maquettes of proposed designs.
Eventually, over 60 large and small installations were completed in the West, primarily in Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as in British Columbia, Washington State, Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas. Small cathedrals in Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, NWT have the most northerly Rault work anywhere. Notable installations include Holy Rosary Cathedral and Blessed Sacrament Church, Regina; Cathedral of the Assumption, Gravelbourg; St. Joseph’s Seminary, Edmonton and three St. Patrick’s churches in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Edmonton, Alberta. There are ensembles in Omaha, Nebraska and Spokane, Washington State, and a large installation at St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Rault tradition continues in Rennes under Andre's son Frédèric as Les Maîtres-Verriers Rennais, now the longest continuously operating stained glass studio in France. The atelier recently replicated the massive 15th-century grisaille windows in the nave of the Chapelle Royale at Chateau de Vincennes, Paris after its windows were severely damaged by a wind storm in 1999.
In addition to the many installations in France and North America, Rault work can be seen in churches, synagogues and mosques in Egypt, Morocco, Haiti, Portugal, and Rome.