“Matisse was as reluctant as most painters to try to express what any given work signified in words; but he made an exception that autumn when Rouault, who had finally obtained a permit to return to Paris, sent his daughter over to Cimiez with the only picture he had managed to produce in the Midi, a tragic canvas painted with infinite delicacy in a gamut of bruised blues. ‘The subject is The Circus Girl and the Manager, seated opposite one another like a lamb confronting a tiger…It is powerfully and poignantly expressive, it is—the entire picture is—a portrait of Rouault,’ Matisse wrote to [his son] Pierre (he added that the painting disturbed him so much he had to keep it shut up in a cupboard). Rouault’s daughter spent two hours at Cimiez pouring over her family’s complaints and grievances to Matisse, who recognized the situation only too well, and tried to get her to see that inner fires consumed her father, whose glaring faults were inseparable from his great strengths. Afterwards, he told Pierre there was no real difference between his case and Rouault’s:
A man who makes pictures like the one we are looking at is an unhappy creature, tormented day and night. He relieves himself of his passion in his pictures, but also in spite of himself on the people around him. That is what normal people never understand. They want to enjoy the artists’ products— as one might enjoy cows’ milk— but they can’t put up with the inconvenience, the mud and the flies.