At the age of 49, Henri Rousseau retired from his position at the Paris customs office, where he worked and earned the moniker "Le Douanier Rousseau," or "the congestion charge collector." The self-taught Rousseau, who admired artists like Jean-Leon Gerome, and William-Adolphe Bouguereau, came to represent the stereotypical naive artist. He earned the esteem and admiration of contemporary painters like Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky for unveiling "the endless opportunities of simplicity," despite his inexperienced technique and strange compositions, which earned him the scorn of critics of the day. Rousseau is most renowned for his lush jungle themes, which were more likely influenced by numerous visits to the Paris gardens and zoo than any personal travels to such places (the artist is said to have never left France).
Early Life of Henri Rousseau
Henri Julien Felix Rousseau was raised in Laval, a tiny town in northwest France, under impoverished circumstances. His dad, a metal fabricator, had long-standing financial problems that led to the family home being seized in 1851. The young Henri then joined as a boarder at Laval High School, where he continued to study until 1860. Except for obtaining honors in music and painting, he was a typical student.
In 1861, the family relocated to Angers, where Rousseau worked as a clerk for the city bailiff. He was able to escape being drafted into the military by a lottery. Still, he enlisted in the 51st Infantry Regiment to avoid trouble when his employer suspected him of stealing. Rousseau's seven years of active duty in France were without incident, although he frequently overstated his military dominance. One of his made-up exploits entailed trying to quell the rebellion against Emperor Maximilian in Mexico, during which he would supposedly be acquainted with the forest life that served as the inspiration for his later paintings.
In 1868, Rousseau wed Clemence Boitard, who would become his first wife. Only Julia, a daughter, lived to adulthood out of their numerous offspring. After leaving the military, he accepted a position verifying goods for the toll authority, earning him the lifetime name "Le Douanier." Rousseau made his first sketches and paintings when he was working there. He stated that he started painting at forty (1884) when he was granted permission to copy artwork from the Louvre, yet the beginnings of his artistic career remain unknown. Rousseau was probably able to practice drawing during calm intervals at work because his position as a customs officer only occasionally required periods of diligence.
Career life of Henri Rousseau
Rousseau wrote a play based on his experience seeing the World's Fair in Paris in 1889 due to his trips there. The picture Myself, Portrait-Landscape (1890), which attracted satire and sarcasm from reviewers, also included a fair framework.
Rousseau married widow Josephine Noury in 1898, 10 years after the death of his first wife. Between 1898 and 1900, he entered two competitions to paint the town halls of Vincennes and Asnieres, respectively, but he failed in both. However, through journalistic comments, he recognized that he had achieved some renown with his jungle paintings, and in 1904, he returned to the theme with Scouts Attacked by the Tiger. Rousseau was propelled back into public attention due to their participation in the Independents, which sparked a rush of reviews.
Around this time, the younger generation of painters came upon Rousseau, whose work appears to be closely connected to the "primitive" art that many members of the avant-garde were starting to like. Many of these artists, noticeably Georges Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, and Robert Delaunay, formed close friends with him early. Wilhelm Uhde, a German art critic and collector whom Rousseau met in 1906 had a crucial role in promoting his writing in the latter years of his life. But Rousseau's success was disrupted in 1907 when he was arrested for bank fraud. Several of the most reliable information about the artist is included in the series of notes he sent to the judge in his appeal for release, which overstated his character and his abilities.
In 1908, Uhde conducted Rousseau's first solo show, which was unsuccessful. Pablo Picasso obtained Rousseau's Portrait of a Woman (1895) that year after acquiring it in a thrift store. Picasso organized a famed party to mark the occasion of his acquisition, and many of the participants, including Gertrude Stein, were inspired to write vivid stories of their experiences. As the guest of honor, Rousseau sat on an improvised throne from a chair on top of a carton. He even contributed to the entertainment by playing a waltz he had created and giving the name of his first wife. After being well-liked by his fellow painters, Rousseau remained a pathetic joke in the art world and spent the rest of his life in poverty. He died suddenly.
The Legacy of Henri Rousseau
After his death, Rousseau's friends and fellow visual artists were critical in sustaining his legacy. With a New York showing in 1910, the artist Max Weber revealed Rousseau's work to American spectators. The following year, Robert Delaunay sponsored a memorial exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants. Wassily Kandinsky, who eventually bought a couple of Rousseau's paintings and inserted copies of his work in the Blaue Reiter Almanac, was profoundly affected by Uhde's publishing of the first biography on Rousseau (1912).
Rousseau's work produced an enduring impression on painters of the following generation and beyond because it was endowed with an inexplicably alluring weirdness that could create wonder among the ordinary and the exotic. The "primitivism" championed by early 20th-century contemporary painters like Picasso and Kandinsky, who turned to art forms like African tribal sculptures and Russian folk art throughout their quest for a more "primal" method of expression, chimed with his work's unschooled technique and feeling of childish simplicity. André Breton praised Rousseau as a "proto-Surrealist" for his vivid colors and distinct contours, which foreshadowed the works of Existentialists like René Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico and gave his art a hallucinatory, irreverent, and metaphysical feel.
Best Arts of Henri Rousseau
With himself depicted in exaggerated scale, holding a brush and palette while donning a suit and a conventional artist's beret, and standing in front of a background that includes the Eiffel Tower as well as a tall ship with flags from around the world, Rousseau captures the pinnacle of legendary status to which he strived as a painter. Even though Rousseau finished the portrayal in 1890, he eventually clarified more autobiographical details, including the identities of his two wives, Clemence and Josephine, something that he later decorated on the range of shades and a filament of the sequence of academic distinction, something that he added to the lapel in 1901 after transforming into a drawing instructor at the Organization Philotechnique.
In this, Rousseau's first jungle picture, a broad, tooth-bearing tiger abruptly rises from the grass where it is hiding. The storm mentioned in the title is indicated by the swaying fronds, sloping downward branches, rainfall, and gloomy sky. The canvas has other names like "Storm in the Jungle" and "Tigers Pursuing Explorers," which hinted at some uncertainty over the subject matter. This jungle scene, a subject matter frequently explored by academic painters, was displayed at the Salon des Independents and derided by several critics for its glaring amateurishness.
Many people claimed this picture was a counterfeit since it did not depict Rousseau's typical subjects; some even credited André Derain with creating it. A female gypsy is seen in the moonlit scene sleeping in the desert with a mandolin and jug at her side, unbothered and, miraculously, untouched by an inquisitive lion. The perilously sliding level and depiction of the animals and gypsy as though below the viewer's viewpoint add to the scene's weirdness. The image is reminiscent of the Arabian Nights tales, which had been rendered into numerous unabridged forms beginning in the mid-1880s, and the gypsy is clothed in Eastern attire.
A startling amount of the fight scene in the painting's center, mostly covered by lush trees in front of a setting sun, appears motionless due to the lion and antelope's empty gazes. The two creatures' attitudes were modeled after a diorama created for the zoological museums of the Jardin des Plantes, a place the artist frequently frequented and which has a sizable collection of flora and wildlife. The work's title, which described an antelope as "letting a tear," illustrates Rousseau's lack of direct knowledge of the wild animals he depicted: "The ravenous lion, flinging himself upon such antelope, devours him.
With its strange representation of a naked lady lounging on a sofa in a woodland, the title "The Dream" fits the current piece. Other wide-eyed lions stare at the bizarre picture or the spectator, as well as vivid, skillfully portrayed flora that featured at least twenty-two hues of green. The woman is also accompanied by other animals that live in the forest.
This image of a comically misplaced academic style nearly naked in an exotic configuration far removed from the artist's native Europe, evocative of neo-classical odalisques depicted by artists like Ingres and possibly based on a Polish woman Rousseau already when loved, might very well be interpreted as Rousseau's response to late nineteenth French western imperialist advancement to territories he encountered mostly through his meetings to exhibitions and multimedia presentations like magazines and posters.