Henri Rousseau

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Henri Rousseau
Rousseau09.jpg
Self Portrait (1890), National Gallery, Prague
Birth name Henri Julien Félix Rousseau
Born (1844-05-21)21 May 1844
Laval, Mayenne
Died 2 September 1910(1910-09-02) (aged 66)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Field Painting
Training Self-taught
Movement Post-Impressionism, Naïve art, Primitivism
Works The Sleeping Gypsy, Tiger in a Tropical Storm, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, Boy on the Rocks

Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (French: [ɑ̃ʁi ʒyljɛ̃ feliks ʁuso]; May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910)[1] was a French Post-Impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner.[2][3] He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll collector.[1] Ridiculed during his lifetime, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.[4][5]

Background[edit]

Henri Rousseau was born in Laval, France in 1844 into the family of a plumber; he was forced to work there as a small boy.[6] 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.[7] He worked for a lawyer and studied law, but "attempted a small perjury and sought refuge in the army,"[8] 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 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. He started painting seriously in his early forties, and by age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art full-time.[9]

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 Gérôme.[10] Essentially he was self-taught and is considered to be a naïve or primitive painter.

Paintings[edit]

Self-portrait of the Artist with a Lamp

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 illustrated books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of taxidermied 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 view such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground.

Criticism and recognition[edit]

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

Rousseau's flat, seemingly childish style was disparaged by many critics; people often were shocked by his work or ridiculed it.[5][11] His ingenuousness was extreme, and he always aspired, in vain, to conventional acceptance.[citation needed] Many observers commented that he painted like a child, but the work shows sophistication with his particular technique.[3][5]

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 jungles.[9]

In 1893, Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse where he lived and worked until his death in 1910.[12] 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 Fauves.[9]

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

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 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.[9]

The Dream (1910), MoMA

Rousseau exhibited his final painting, The Dream, at the 1910 Salon des Independants a few months before his death on 2 September 1910 in the Hospital Necker in Paris.[13] 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.

Legacy[edit]

Rousseau in 1902

Rousseau's work exerted an "extensive influence ... on several generations of vanguard artists, starting with Picasso and including Jean Hugo, 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".[9]

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 vegetation.[14]

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 Charmer. [15]

One of his works was used to be an inspiration for the animated film Madagascar.[16]

The song The Jungle Line by Joni Mitchell is based upon a Rousseau painting.[17]

Exhibitions[edit]

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.[9]

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–October 15, 2006.

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

Paintings[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Henri Rousseau biography at the Guggenheim
  2. ^ Artillerymen by Rousseau at the Guggenheim
  3. ^ a b c "Welcome to HenriRousseau.org - "Le Douanier" : The Life and Works of Henri Rousseau". Henrirousseau.org. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  4. ^ Rousseau at the National Gallery of Art
  5. ^ a b c Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910 By Cornelia Stabenow pages 7 & 8
  6. ^ Henri Rousseau biography, Princeton[dead link]
  7. ^ Henri Rousseau, (1979), Dora Vallier
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Roberta (2006) "Henri Rousseau: In imaginary jungles, a terrible beauty lurks" The New York Times, July 14, 2006. Accessed July 14, 2006
  10. ^ Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910 By Cornelia Stabenow page 16
  11. ^ Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910 By Cornelia Stabenow page 10
  12. ^ Tate Modern | Past Exhibitions | Henri Rousseau | Artistic Circle at www.tate.org.uk
  13. ^ Werner Schmalenbach (2000). Henri Rousseau: Dreams of the Jungle. Prestel Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 3-7913-2409-8. 
  14. ^ Ocelot, Michel (2008-08-25). "Director's notes". Kirikou.net. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  15. ^ Sylvia Plath's artistic influences
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ The Jungle Line Retrieved February 8, 2011

References[edit]

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[edit]

  • 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 links[edit]