- Henri Rousseau
bgcolour = #6495ED
name = Henri Rousseau
imagesize = 150 px
caption = Self Portrait of the Artist with a Lamp
birthdate = May 21, 1844
deathdate = September 2nd, 1910
deathplace = Paris, France
nationality = French
training = Self-taught
Post-Impressionism, Naïve art, Primitivism
works = "The Sleeping Gypsy", "The Merry Jesters"
influenced by =
Fernand Léger, Max Beckmann
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (
May 21, 1844– September 2, 1910) was a French Post-Impressionist painter in the Naive or Primitive manner. He is also known as "Le Douanier" (the customs officer) after his place of employment. Ridiculed during his life, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.
He was born in Laval in the
Loire Valleyinto the family of a plumber. He attended Laval High School as a day student and then as a boarder, after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. He was mediocre in some subjects at the high school but won prizes for drawing and music."Henri Rousseau", (1979), Dora Vallier] He worked for a lawyer and studied law, but "attempted a small perjury and sought refuge in the army," ["Masterworks at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery," (1999), first published as "125 Masterpieces from the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery"(1987), Karen Lee Spaulding, general editor, page 72] serving for four years, starting in 1863. With his father's death, Rousseau moved to Paris in 1868 to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1871, he was promoted to the toll collector's office in Paris as a tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties, and by age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art.Smith, Roberta (2006) [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/14/arts/design/14rous.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print "Henri Rousseau: In imaginary jungles, a terrible beauty lurks"] "The New York Times", July 14 2006. Accessed July 14 2006] His wife died in 1888 and he later remarried.
Rousseau claimed he had "no teacher other than nature", although he admitted he had received "some advice" from two established Academic painters, Félix Auguste-Clément and
Jean-Léon Gérôme. Essentially he was self-taught and is considered to be a naive or primitive painter.
His best known paintings depict
junglescenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle. Stories spread by admirers that his army service included the French expeditionary force to Mexico are unfounded. His inspiration came from illustrated books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of "taxidermified" wild animals. He had also met soldiers, during his term of service, who had survived the French expedition to Mexico and listened to their stories of the subtropical country they had encountered. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes: "When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream."
Along with his exotic scenes there was a concurrent output of smaller topographical images of the city and its suburbs.
He claimed to have invented a new genre of "portrait landscape", which he achieved by starting a painting with a view such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground.
Criticism and recognition
Rousseau's flat, seemingly childish style gave him many critics; people often were shocked by his work or ridiculed it. His ingenuousness was extreme, and he was unaware that establishment artists considered him untutored. He always aspired, in vain, to conventional acceptance. Many observers commented that he painted like a child, but the work shows sophistication with his particular technique.
From 1886 he exhibited regularly in the
Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. "Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)" was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review, when the young artist Félix Vallottonwrote: "His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it's the alpha and omega of painting." Yet it was more than a decade before Rousseau returned to depicting his vision of jungles.
In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in
Montparnassewhere he lived and worked until his death in 1910. [ [http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/rousseau/artisticcircle/ Tate Modern | Past Exhibitions | Henri Rousseau | Artistic Circle ] at www.tate.org.uk] During 1897 he produced one of his most famous paintings, "La Bohémienne endormie" ( The Sleeping Gypsy).
During 1905 a large jungle scene "The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope" was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants near works by younger leading avant-garde artists such as
Henri Matissein what is now seen as the first showing of The Fauves. Rousseau's painting may even have influenced the naming of the Fauves.In 1907 he was commissioned by artist Robert Delaunay's mother, Berthe, Comtesse de Delaunay, to paint "The Snake Charmer".
Pablo Picassohappened upon a painting by Rousseau being sold on the street as a canvas to be painted over, the younger artist instantly recognised Rousseau's genius and went to meet him. In 1908 Picasso held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio in " Le Bateau-Lavoir" in Rousseau's honour.
After Rousseau's retirement in 1893, he supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and work such as playing a violin in the streets. He also worked briefly at "Le petit journal", where he produced a number of its covers.
Henri Rousseau died
2 September 1910in the Hospital Necker in Paris. Seven friends stood at his grave in the Cimetière de Bagneux: the painters Paul Signacand Otiz de Zarate, Robert Delaunayand his wife Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brancusi, Rousseau's landlord Armand Queval and Guillaume Apollinairewho wrote the epitaph Brancusi put on the tombstone::"We salute you":"Gentle Rousseau you can hear us":"Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself":"Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven":"We will bring you brushes paints and canvas":"That you may spend your sacred leisure in the":"light of truth Painting":"as you once did my portrait":"Facing the stars"
Rousseau's work exerted an "extensive influence ... on several generations of vanguard artists, starting with Picasso and including Léger, Beckmann and the Surrealists," according to Roberta Smith, an art critic writing in "
The New York Times". "Beckmann’s amazing self-portraits, for example, descend from the brusque, concentrated forms of Rousseau’s portrait of the writer Pierre Loti".
In 1911 a retrospective exhibition of Rousseau's works was shown at the
Salon des Indépendants. His paintings were also shown at the first Blaue Reiter exhibition.
Two major museum exhibitions of his work were held in 1984-85 (in Paris, at the Grand Palais; and in New York, at the
Museum of Modern Art) and in 2001 (Tübingen, Germany). "These efforts countered the persona of the humble, oblivious naïf by detailing his assured single-mindedness and tracked the extensive influence his work exerted on several generations of vanguard artists," critic Roberta Smith wrote in a review of a later exhibition.
A major exhibition of his work, "Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris," was shown at
Tate Modernfrom November 2005 for four months, organised by the Tate and the Musée d’Orsay, where the show also appeared. The exhibition, encompassing 49 of his paintings, was on display at the National Gallery of Artin Washington from July 16– October 15 2006.
A major collection of Rousseau's work were shown at The
Grand Palaisfrom March 15to June 19, 2006.
Boy On The Rocks
Much of the information in this article was taken from "Henri Rousseau Jungles in Paris", The
Tate Gallery, pamphlet accompanying the 2005 exhibition.
Books on Rousseau
*"The Banquet Years", by Roger Shattuck (includes an extensive Rousseau essay)
*"Henri Rousseau", 1979, Dora Vallier (general illustrated essay)
*"Henri Rousseau", 1984,
The Museum of Modern ArtNew York (essays by Roger Shattuck, Henri Béhar, Michel Hoog, Carolyn Lanchner, and William Rubin; includes excellent color plates and analysis)
* [http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/rousseau/index.shtm Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, at the National Gallery of Art]
* [http://www.nga.gov/kids/linkrousseau.htm Rousseau text written for young readers] Brief introduction to the artist's life and art. Entry contains links to two large reproductions of Rousseau paintings in the National Gallery of Art, a 4th grade lesson relating Rousseau's paintings to ecology, and hands-on activities suitable for classroom or home study.
* [http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/rousseau/index.shtm Henri Rousseau: A Jungle in Paris]
* [http://www.tendreams.org/rousseau.htm Ten Dreams Galleries]
* [http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=80172"The Sleeping Gypsy"] in the MoMA Online Collection
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