February 28, 2009

The Art of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was ridiculed in his own lifetime, but posthumously achieving his ambition of having his work exhibited in the Louvre, he is nowadays considered a talented Naïve painter. With the revolutionary changes in art in the start of the 20th century came a reappraisal of previously dismissed genres, including Naïve painting.


(Rousseau, Henri. The Dream. c. 1910. oil on canvas.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York .)

Naïve or Primitive art can be loosely defined as the work of artists with little or no formal training. It does not imply an amateur status. Their lack of training was recognized as strength rather than a shortcoming, giving their work a refreshing spontaneity and directness.


(Rousseau, Henri. Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest. c. 1905.
oil on canvas. The Barnes Foundation, Merion Pennsylvania .)

Henri Rousseau had no formal training and for much of his life he worked as a tax collector at the Paris tollgates, earning him the nickname Le Douanier (the customs officer). Rousseau often painted huge, brightly colored fantasies set in exotic jungle scenes – all the more remarkable because despite his boasts to the contrary, he never left France.


(Rousseau, Henri. The Sleeping Gypsy. c. 1897. oil on canvas.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York .)

He had an unshakable belief in his own talent, which led him to exhibit almost every year in the Salon des Independents, an alternative group that allowed artists to show their work outside the formal constraints of The Salon.


(Rousseau, Henri. The Snake Charmer. c. 1907. oil on canvas.
Museum of Orsay, Paris.)

Rousseau’s paintings were later discovered by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi, but it was too late to bring him the success he craved. His work anticipated and influenced several 20th century styles: paintings such as The Snake Charmer (1907) and The Dream (1910) presage Surrealism in particular.


(Rousseau, Henri. Bouquet of Flowers.
c. 1910. oil on canvas.)

Rousseau’s vivid colors in bold composition with figures that are stiffly depicted give the viewer the impression of a collage, he uses color rather than perspective to create depth in his paintings and his work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.

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