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Henri Rousseau

henri rousseau, henri rousseau jungle paintings
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau French: ɑ̃ʁi ʒyljɛ̃ feliks ʁuso; May 21, 1844 – September 2, 19101 was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner23 He was also known as Le Douanier the customs officer, a humorous description of his occupation as a toll collector1 He started painting seriously in his early forties; by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time4

Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality56 Rousseau's work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists4


  • 1 Biography
    • 11 Early life
    • 12 Career
    • 13 Le Banquet Rousseau
    • 14 Retirement and death
  • 2 Artistry
    • 21 Paintings
    • 22 Criticism and recognition
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Exhibitions
  • 5 Paintings
  • 6 Footnotes
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading
  • 9 External links


Early lifeedit

Rousseau was born in Laval, Mayenne, France, in 1844 into the family of a plumber; he was forced to work there as a small boy7 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 Though mediocre in some of his high school subjects, Rousseau won prizes for drawing and music8

After high school, he worked for a lawyer and studied law, but "attempted a small perjury and sought refuge in the army"9 He served 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 1868, he married Clémence Boitard, his landlord's 15-year-old daughter, with whom he had six children only one survived In 1871, he was appointed as a collector of the octroi of Paris, collecting taxes on goods entering Paris His wife died in 1888 and he married Josephine Noury in 1898


Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprised! 1891 was the first of many jungle scenes for which Rousseau is best known

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 Vallotton wrote: "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 jungles4

In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 191010 In 1897, he produced one of his most famous paintings, La Bohémienne endormie The Sleeping Gypsy

In 1905, Rousseau's 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 Matisse, in what is now seen as the first showing of The Fauves Rousseau's painting may even have influenced the naming of the Fauves4

In 1907, he was commissioned by artist Robert Delaunay's mother, Berthe, Comtesse de Delaunay, to paint The Snake Charmer

Le Banquet Rousseauedit

When Pablo Picasso happened 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 at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau's honour1 Le Banquet Rousseau, "one of the most notable social events of the twentieth century," wrote American poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, "was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement's earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations"11

Guests at the banquet Rousseau included: Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Leo Stein, and Gertrude Stein12

Maurice Raynal, in Les Soires de Paris, January 15, 1914, p 69, wrote about "Le Banquet Rousseau"13 Years later the French writer André Salmon recalled the setting of the illustrious banquet:

"Here the nights of the Blue Period passed here the days of the Rose Period flowered here the Demoiselles d'Avignon halted in their dance to re-group themselves in accordance with the golden number and the secret of the fourth dimension here fraternized the poets elevated by serious criticism into the School of the Rue Ravignan here in these shadowy corridors lived the true worshippers of fire here one evening in the year 1908 unrolled the pageantry of the first and last banquet offered by his admirers to the painter Henri Rousseau called the Douanier"111214

Retirement and deathedit

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 covers4 Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, in March 1910, at the Salon des Independants

The Dream 1910, MoMA

In the same month Rousseau suffered a phlegmon in his leg which he ignored15 In August he was admitted to the Necker Hospital16 in Paris where his son had died and was found to have gangrene in his leg After an operation, he died from a blood clot on September 2, 1910

At his funeral, seven friends stood at his grave: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Delaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brâncuși, Rousseau's landlord Armand Queval, and Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brâncuși 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 and Truth of Painting
As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gypsy



The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, 1905

Rousseau claimed he had "no teacher other than nature",3 although he admitted he had received "some advice" from two established Academic painters, Félix Auguste Clément and Jean-Léon Gérôme17 Essentially, he was self-taught and is considered to be a naïve or primitive painter

His best-known paintings depict jungle scenes, 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 illustrations in children's books18 and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of taxidermy wild animals He had also met soldiers during his term of service who had survived the French expedition to Mexico, and he 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 specific view, such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground

Criticism and recognitionedit

Rousseau's flat, seemingly childish style was disparaged by many critics; people often were shocked by his work or ridiculed it619 His ingenuousness was extreme, and 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 technique36


Rousseau in 1902

Rousseau's work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Fernand Léger Jean Metzinger, Max 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"420

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

Critics have noted the influence of Rousseau on Wallace Stevens's poetry See, for instance, Stevens's Floral Decorations for Bananas in the collection Harmonium

The American poet Sylvia Plath was a great admirer of Rousseau, referencing his art, as well as drawing inspiration from his works in her poetry The poem, Yadwigha, on a Red Couch, Among Lilies 1958, is based upon his painting, The Dream, whilst the poem Snakecharmer 1957 is based upon his painting The Snake Charmer21

The song, The Jungle Line, by Joni Mitchell, is based upon a Rousseau painting22

Underground comic artist Bill Griffith drew a four-page autobiographical sketch of Rousseau, A Couch in the Sun, which was included in issue #2 of the Arcade anthology

The visual style of Michel Ocelot's 1998 animation film, Kirikou and the Sorceress, is partly inspired by Rousseau, particularly the depiction of the jungle vegetation23

A Rousseau painting was used as an inspiration for the 2005 animated film Madagascar24


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 exhibition4

A major exhibition of his work, "Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris", was shown at the Tate Modern from 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 Art in Washington from July 16 to October 15, 2006

A major collection of Rousseau's work was shown at the Grand Palais from March 15 to June 19, 2006



  1. ^ a b c Henri Rousseau biography at the Guggenheim
  2. ^ Artillerymen by Rousseau at the Guggenheim
  3. ^ a b c "Welcome to HenriRousseauorg - "Le Douanier" : The Life and Works of Henri Rousseau" Henrirousseauorg Retrieved 2012-08-07 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Smith, Roberta 2006 "Henri Rousseau: In imaginary jungles, a terrible beauty lurks" The New York Times, July 14, 2006 Accessed July 14, 2006
  5. ^ Rousseau at the National Gallery of Art
  6. ^ a b c Henri Rousseau, 1844–1910 By Cornelia Stabenow pp 7, 8
  7. ^ Henri Rousseau biography, Princeton Archived October 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Henri Rousseau, 1979, Dora Vallier
  9. ^ Masterworks at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1999, first published as 125 Masterpieces from the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery1987, Karen Lee Spaulding, general editor, page 72
  10. ^ Tate Modern | Past Exhibitions | Henri Rousseau | Artistic Circle at wwwtateorguk
  11. ^ a b John Malcolm Brinnin, The Third Rose, Gertrude Stein and Her World, An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Toronto, 1959
  12. ^ a b Richard Robson Brettell, Natalie H Lee, Monet to Moore: The Millennium Gift of Sara Lee Corporation, Yale University Press, 1999
  13. ^ Ann Temkin, Rousseau: The Dream, The Museum of Modern Art, Jul 31, 2012
  14. ^ Mark Antliff, Patricia Dee Leighten, A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914, University of Chicago Press, Aug 1, 2008
  15. ^ The World of Henri Rousseau by Yann Le Pichon, published by Phaidon Press Ltd, Oxford, 1982, ISBN 0-7148-2256-6
  16. ^ Werner Schmalenbach 2000 Henri Rousseau: Dreams of the Jungle Prestel Publishing p 58 ISBN 3-7913-2409-8 
  17. ^ Henri Rousseau, 1844–1910 By Cornelia Stabenow page 16
  18. ^ Art History, by Shannon Porter Symbolism, frame 57
  19. ^ Henri Rousseau, 1844–1910 By Cornelia Stabenow page 10
  20. ^ Joann Moser, 1985, Jean Metzinger in Retrospect, Pre-Cubist Works, 1904–1909, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, J Paul Getty Trust, University of Washington Press, pp 34, 35
  21. ^ Sylvia Plath's artistic influences
  22. ^ The Jungle Line Retrieved February 8, 2011
  23. ^ Ocelot, Michel 2008-08-25 "Director's notes" Kirikounet Retrieved 2008-08-25 
  24. ^ Rosen, Lisa 8 May 2005 "A jungle's classic roots: Capturing The Style For 'Madagascar' Meant Going Past The '50S To Artist Henri Rousseau" Los Angeles Times Retrieved 17 April 2013 


Much of the information in this article was taken from Henri Rousseau Jungles in Paris, The Tate Gallery, pamphlet accompanying the 2005 exhibition

Further readingedit

  • 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 Art New York essays by Roger Shattuck, Henri Béhar, Michel Hoog, Carolyn Lanchner, and William Rubin; includes excellent color plates and analysis

External linksedit

  • Henrirousseauorg, 118 works by Henri Rousseau
  • Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris, at the National Gallery of Art
  • 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
  • Ten Dreams Galleries
  • The Sleeping Gypsy in the MoMA Online Collection

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Henri Rousseau

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