France • 1844−1910

Biography and information

Henri Rousseau measured the heroes of his portraits with a folding meter. All my life I dreamed of being a realist, I was guided by the laws of academic painting, without even knowing how much more he was. It is a little awkward and noticeably painful to talk about his life - it happens when you see how good, but ridiculous and absurd person is poisoned by good people too, in essence. Just because he is so funny and awkward. And at the same time talking about him is joyful. Because you already know that everything worked out for him, not in the way he wanted, but much better.

“But they are right, Henri,” said Vincent. - We are crazy!
- So do not go if we drink a glass? - suggested Rousseau.
(Irving Stone “Thirst for Life”)

Henri Rousseau: it all began modestly

Henri Rousseau (Henri Julien Felix Rousseau) was born in the small French town of Laval in the family of a poor tinsmith. He had two older sisters and a younger brother. The family could barely make ends meet. In school, Henri did not shine, although in mathematics and music showed success. After he entered the law office. And almost immediately faced with the consequences of his naive attitude to life - as a result of incitement he stole a small amount from the accounting department. Prison threatened, instead of annual imprisonment, he chose 7 years of military service. He was at that time 19. Rousseau did not write to his account to his account. His regiment did not leave France. Although later he will maintain the legend that he visited while serving in Mexico, and it is from there that the "roots" of his tropical plants.

In 1868, Rousseau's father died, Henri, as the sole breadwinner in the family, was released from further service. He settled down as a bailiff and rented a house in Paris. Immediately fell in love with the daughter of the hostess Clemence and soon married her. Career growth he clearly did not shine - his colleagues considered it a little silly and very strange. And he himself was incredibly suffering from the need to go to the dwellings of already disadvantaged people, imposing arrest on their property. Should he not know what it is, if his father’s house was also put up for auction for debt? He resigns from this position and in 1871 he gets a job at the Paris customs of the Excise Department.

The customs officer comes to the customs and galleries

It will take many years before, with the light hand of fellow countryman Rousseau, poet Alfred Jari, the word “customs officer” begins to write with a capital letter, implying this to no one else like a self-taught artist. At customs, he worked for 15 years. They said that he installed an easel on the workplace and selflessly painted. Late "custom landscapes" preserved ("Customs outpost").
In his free time, he went to the Louvre and wrote copies of paintings by old masters. In 1885, Rousseau filed an application for participation in the free Art Salon on the Champs Elysees. He presented copies and two of his own paintings. The legend is well known that some unbalanced visitor cut one of them with a knife, but there are no facts confirming this.

The following year, for the first time, Rousseau participated in the exhibition of the Independent Salon, and from that time his paintings were regularly exhibited at the Salon. Young bullied artists insisted on the elderly, from their point of view, Rousseau (he was over forty!) And laughed at him, while the public simply laughed at his paintings. But having eyes, they saw it already then. Some wit led to "Carnival evening"Customs officerCamille Pissarropromising he will have fun now. Pizarro also stood in front of the picture delighted. BUT Paul Gauguin admired "Boy on the rocks" and the skill of Rousseau to use black.

The personal life of the customs officer

Henri and Clemence Rousseau lived poorly, but happily, treated each other with extraordinary tenderness. In addition to painting, Rousseau was very fond of music, often playing his wife on the violin, and even composed for her Waltz Clemence. The only thing that overshadowed their happiness was Clemence's weakness, she suffered from tuberculosis. Therefore, children were born painful. Of the nine children, seven died in infancy, survived daughter Julie-Clemence and son Henri-Anatole. In 1888, Clemence disappeared. Rousseau was seriously worried about her departure. He gave his daughter to be raised by his brother, he himself stayed with his son.

In 1893, Henri Rousseau retired due to his years of service. In 50 years, the artist with his son moved to Montparnasse, then still only gaining fame as a favorite place of the artistic avant-garde. Rousseau falls in love with her new neighbor Josephine. She is married and at first remains cold to his confessions. Soon her husband died, and after a while the son of Rousseau died. This tragedy softened Josephine’s heart, and in 1898 she agreed to become the artist’s wife. Josephine works in an office supply store and sells pictures of her husband there. Rousseau himself gives lessons, draws, and on weekends he arranges free training classes for everyone. Alas, after five years, Henri Rousseau becomes a widower for the second time.

Who is he, the customs officer?

The turning point was an acquaintance with Robert delone. Unlike Rousseau, he felt great not only at the easel, but also in any society. He largely contributed to the popularity of Rousseau. Thanks to Delone, Rousseau, in his old age, got out of poverty.

Among the bohemian youth, so-called “evenings at the customs officer” were popular. Rousseau invited artists, poets and just friends, played music with them, showed his paintings. And he didn’t react at all to the fact that most of these friends come to laugh at him.

"Rousseau - the perfection of the naive way of life"- so characterized him Picasso. Noisy companies filled his house, perfumed ladies in narrow gloves turned sternly, dandy dandies built themselves as seasoned connoisseurs of life and tried to look particularly witty against the background of this funny old man. Picasso's friend Fernanda Olivier recalled: “He blushed easily when someone objected to him or when he was embarrassed. He assented to everything he was told, but it was felt that he was holding himself detached and simply did not dare to express his thoughts. ”.

But not so simple. The simpleton Russo was in the Masonic order, and almost nothing is known about this part of his life, except for the fact. Aptly respond to the stinging attacks, he also knew how to occasionally, although he did it extremely rarely. At one of the exhibitions of the Salon of Independent, the central place was given to the paintings by Degas, and Rousseau was allotted a small corner. Edgar Degas walked over to Rousseau and arrogantly started a speech: “I saw, Monsieur Rousseau, your ... uh ... painting”, - and paused, intending to continue in the same vein. To which Rousseau calmly replied: “Yes, yes, my canvases are here. And you, Monsieur Degas, excuse me, where are you now exhibiting? ”.

On one of the evenings to Rousseau came to meet van Gogh. While the bohemian youth laughed and sang, he was silent and serious. Stayed when everyone left, and said softly: “Take off your mask, Rousseau. Understand, I am also a peasant and an artist. ”.

In 1907, Rousseau again faced the law and again because of his innocence: Believing in the difficulties of a friend, he forged a check. He was threatened with imprisonment. According to some reports, he was released from custody because he showed incredible naivety at the trial. It was obvious that he was not guilty, and the only thing that worries him is the opportunity to return to the paints as soon as possible. However, according to another version, the court struck down not only the naivety of the accused, but also the word put in for him by a high-ranking official, also a member of the Order of the Freemasonry.

The 65-year-old Henri Rousseau is again in love, but the object of his feelings, the 59-year-old widow Leonia, only mocks him. The third marriage did not take place, and in 1910, Rousseau as a result of an unsuccessful treatment of the wound formed gangrene, and he dies. But let's finish the story about Henri Rousseau, we are not at all this sad fact, but a story about the famous reception in his honor.

Picasso's Famous Reception

“Honoring Rousseau”, arranged by Pablo Picasso in 1908 in the workshop at Bato Lavoir, has become a legend in its own way. Someone said that the banquet was a tribute to the invaluable talent of Rousseau, someone insists on the draw. Most likely, both are correct.

Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernanda Olivier set the “throne” for Rousseau at the head of the table. Fernanda later recalled that that evening almost the entire Montmartre passed through the Picasso workshop. There were welcoming speeches to the glory of the customs officer, he played Waltz Clemence, wine flowed like a river. At the height of the festivities, touched Rousseau whispered Picasso: "We are the two greatest artists of the era".

To enhance solemnity, chandeliers with burning candles were hung over Rousseau’s head, at some point wax began to drip from them, but not wanting to interrupt the utterance of speeches and this celebration, in which he sincerely believes and even cries with emotion, Rousseau remains in place. Gradually, a wax coating is formed on his head. And this is perhaps the most piercing way of his life. A naive, unlikely, sincere and awkward, talented Customs Officer Rousseau is among those who praise, or laugh at him, play the violin for these people, while he has hot wax on his head ...

Author: Alain Esaulova