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10 eloquent facts about Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau was absolutely incredible artist. It was he who became the most independent of the Independents, made Paris laugh, created a new art movement, amazed famous painters from Signac to Gauguin, became the forerunner of Post-Modernism, Pointillism
In the 1880s, Impressionism began to falter, and young artists tried to come up with new techniques, to rethink the popular style. They were called Neo-Impressionists. Read more
and Conceptualism
Here we make an overview of the “kingdom of concepts” – conceptualism as an art movement - and give examples of the artworks with different meanings and subtexts as in modern art the external aesthetics alone cannot be enough.
Conceptualism, or conceptual art (lat. conceptus —thought, concept) is the literary and artistic direction in postmodernism, which proclaims the concept or idea involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns. This art movement originated in the late 1960s to combine the artist’s work and viewer’s research of the artist, to change the usual ways of communication of the viewer and the artwork. Read more
, and, when being convicted of money laundering, suggested drawing a portrait of the judge’s wife.
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (1844—1910) was a playwright, composer and… creator of the world of fantastic flora
Exquisite still-lifes and marvelous plants on canvases: flowers do not only beautify the appearance, but also open secret meanings, and convey messages to the attentive researcher. Leafing through captivating Herbarium, we're examining enigmatic garden of flower symbols.

Read more
and fauna. The list of Rousseau’s "improbabilities" can be continued up to at least 170 items. To your attention is our top ten!
Henri Rousseau. Walk in the woods

1. The iIgnoramus at the Salon of the Independent (Paris, 1885): perspectiveless!
The jury of the official Salon would never accept his work, but the Independent gladly took the artworks of the strange self-taught. Rousseau did not bother himself with the technique and or laws of perspective, but conveyed it through shades, intuitively taking into account the colour change with distance from objects.
At exhibitions, where Rousseau’s paintings were located in far corners, spectators gathered and loudly made fun of the simple-minded ignoramus, playing kind of a game: who would reveal the depth of Rousseau.

2. Fantasy... at customs!

The modest customs officer (hence the nickname Le Douanier — The Customs Officer) spread the legend that while serving in the army he visited Mexico — after all, he had to explain somehow where this whole world of lush thickets, wild biblical animal fights, and huge fabulous flowers taller than human growth came from.
We see Rousseau’s Dream (title illustration), where he did not hesitate to teleport the sleeping Jadwiga (the stranger is the subject of his paintings and a play) into this fantastic forest right along with the sofa.

3. Picasso & Co: recognition

"Straightforwardness, passion, genius," one of the critics described Rousseau. Paul Signac, Odilon Redon, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, all of them highly appreciated the art of Rousseau. Artists and poets gave him their friendship, made fun of his gullibility and loved him for his spiritual purity and talent. Watch just one example, but a great one!

Pablo Picasso did not part with the Portrait of a Woman (Jadwiga), which he acquired for 5 francs even before meeting the painter.

Picasso in front of the Jadwiga portrait by Rousseau, Paris, 1932. Photo — de Brassaï
Archival photo, Picasso Museum, Paris

Henri Rousseau. The Muse inspiring the poet

4. The poet’s great ship needs… a place in Russia!

Grateful to Guillaume Apollinaire for his dedication of a poem, Le Douanier painted a picture, The Poet and His Muse, where he depicted the poet’s "muse", who was famous throughout Paris for her wasp waist, as a very solid lady. He explained to the offended Apollinaire that "a great poet needs a great muse". The painting that the poet rejected was bought by the Moscow merchant Sergei Shchukin, whose collection laid the foundation for the collections of French modernist painting in the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum.

Henri Rousseau. The snake charmer
The snake charmer
1907, 190×169 cm
Rousseau was generous with size. If you find yourself in front of his The Snake Charmer canvas (621×568 cm) in the Museum d’Orsay, you will feel like a small creature lost in the thicket of poisonous voluptuous jungle.
Henri Rousseau. War (Rider of discord)

5. Who is this scarecrow and what does he know?
The short-legged dishevelled creature jumping off a lizard horse is a lady, and the man is Rousseau himself, they are the only living figures in the drama of his largest canvas. Among the pile of bodies, he depicted the first husband of his second wife (the one on which the bird sits).

This is War, a canvas painted 20 years before the start of the First World War. Somewhere out there, behind the defenseless nakedness of the heap of human bodies and crippled trees is a sunny world with pink clouds…

6. Poems and the colour element: what is original with Rousseau

— Titles: abandoning the laws of painting, Rousseau stepped from the end of the 19th century immediately into the end of the 20th century. Just as conceptualists do now, he accompanied his creations with long captions, sometimes versed!
"The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, and devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal which sheds a tear. The sun sets."

— Shades: The artist boasted to renowned Italian critic Ardengo Soficci that he used 22 shades of green in his Jaguar Attacking a Horse. Shades of blue and dark tones were also in favour (the subject of Paul Gauguin’s admiration).

— Materials: although the seller offered to buy the Portrait of Jadwiga for its huge canvas, many of Rousseau’s works were made on a low-grade and cheap bases, in contrast to a very high-quality paint layer. Therefore, one of his works in the collection of the Pushkin Museum has already been transferred to a new canvas.
Henri Rousseau. The sleeping Gypsy

7. In the beginning was singing
They say that at school, Henri was only good in mathematics and singing. An ingenious self-taught, he composed Waltz Clemence (in memory of his deceased wife), two theatrical plays, Visiting an Exhibition and Revenge of a Russian Orphan. He gave private lessons in solfeggio, recitation and drawing. He played the violin for his friends.

8. Not to jail!

One of his students profiteered in the teacher’s gullibility and involved him into illegal cashing. The artist was brought to trial and given a suspended sentence for two years: seeing his paintings as the evidence of the artist’s complete naivety, the audience burst into laughter. In gratitude for the mitigation of the sentence, the happy Rousseau, invited the judge to paint portraits of his loved ones right in the courtroom. In general, he often painted portraits and gave them to his friends.
Henri Rousseau. Portrait of the second wife

9. Paintings as victims of prejudice

In the Rousseau family, the artistic profession was associated with depravity. After the death of his friend, Robert Delaunay rushed to his daughter, but it was late: she tore up and threw away hundreds of his drawings, only notebooks survived, where Rousseau pasted newspaper reviews of his work.

* the illustration is the Portrait of the Artist’s Second Wife (with a Kerosene Lamp), 1903

10. Price adventures

About 100 paintings by Henri Rousseau are now known. They are scattered all over the world in museums and private collections. It is believed that at the end of his life Rousseau achieved commercial success, although the once mayor of Laval, the artist’s hometown, refused to buy his painting for 2,000 francs. Today, Le Douanier could make a fine fortune, his small works are estimated from 300,000 to 500,000 euros — take a look at the prices! In 2002, the Landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
with Factory Chimney was auctioned off for $ 361,500 with a starting price of $ 100,000.
Rousseau always got into a good company, even his paintings do!

For example, in the days of Khrushchev, a work by Henri Rousseau was almost secretly sold to the collection of the American MoMA, along with the canvases of the Impressionists that vegetated in the storerooms of the Pushkin State Museum. But Khrushchev remembered the infamous Stalin’s sales of museum treasures and changed his mind.
  • The Representatives of Foreign Powers Coming to Salute the Republic as a Sign of Peace (in the center — Nicholas II)
  • View of the Bridge at Sevres (collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts)

In 2002, 30 paintings by Picasso and Rousseau were stolen from a private collection in France. It happened on the night of December, 31 so the joke about Santa’s gift was just a terrible dream of the collector! And in 2011, an auction sold items from the house of Michael Jackson, including Henri Rousseau’s paintings.

Henri Rousseau. Bridge
1895, 40×28 cm
Well, having left his office work at customs in 1890 for the "inclinations of his soul" for drawing, Henri Julien Félix Rousseau easily walks across the borders today.

Written by Inna Lostman