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Henri Rousseau Photo

Henri Rousseau

French Painter

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Born: May 21, 1844 - Laval, France

Died: September 2, 1910 - Paris, France

"When I step into the hothouses and see the plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am in a dream."

Henri Rousseau Signature

Summary of Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau became a full-time artist at the age of forty-nine, after retiring from his post at the Paris customs office - a job that prompted his famous nickname, "Le Douanier Rousseau," "the toll collector." Although an admirer of artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean-Leon Gerome, the self-taught Rousseau became the archetypal naïve artist. His amateurish technique and unusual compositions provoked the derision of contemporary critics, while earning the respect and admiration of modern artists like Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky for revealing "the new possibilities of simplicity." Rousseau's best-known works are lush jungle scenes, inspired not by any firsthand experiences of such locales (the artist reportedly never left France), but by frequent trips to the Paris gardens and zoo.

Key Ideas

Although he had ambitions to become a famous academic painter, Rousseau instead became the virtual opposite: the quintessential "naïve" artist. Largely self-taught, Rousseau developed a style that evidenced his lack of academic training, with its absence of correct proportions, one-point perspective, and use of sharp, often unnatural colors. Such features resulted in a body of work imbued with a sense of mystery and eccentricity.
The untutored and idiosyncratic character of Rousseau's art was derided by many early viewers of his work, with one Parisian journalist memorably writing that "Monsieur Rousseau paints with his feet with his eyes closed." Yet this quality resonated with modern artists such as Picasso, who saw in Rousseau's work a model for the sincerity and directness to which they aspired in their own work, by drawing inspiration from African tribal masks and other "primitive" and traditional art forms.
Influenced by a combination of "high" and "low" sources - academic sculpture, postcards, tabloid illustrations, and trips to the Paris public zoo and gardens - Rousseau created modern, unconventional renderings of traditional genres such as landscape, portraiture, and allegory. The fantastic, often outrageous imagery that resulted from these hybrid influences - most famously, a nude woman reclining on a divan mysteriously located in a tropical jungle - was celebrated by the Surrealists, whose art valued surprising juxtapositions and dream-like moods characteristic of Rousseau's work.
Henri Rousseau Photo

Henri Julien Felix Rousseau grew up amid humble circumstances in Laval, a small town in northwestern France. His father, a metalsmith, had long-term financial difficulties, amassing enough debt to result in the seizure of the family house in 1851. Subsequently, the young Henri enrolled as a boarding student at Laval High School, which he attended until 1860. He was an average student, aside from receiving distinctions in music and drawing.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Henri Rousseau
Interactive chart with Henri Rousseau's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Leon BonnatLeon Bonnat
Felix ClementFelix Clement
Jean-Léon GérômeJean-Léon Gérôme

Personal Contacts

Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Alfred JarryAlfred Jarry
Wilhelm UhdeWilhelm Uhde

Movements

African ArtAfrican Art
ImpressionismImpressionism
SymbolismSymbolism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau
Years Worked: 1884 - 1910
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Max ErnstMax Ernst
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Personal Contacts

Fernand LégerFernand Léger
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Movements

FauvismFauvism
Naïve ArtNaïve Art
SurrealismSurrealism

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Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tracee Ng
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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