Henri Rousseau (French, 1844–1910) was a Post-Impressionist painter, often associated with the Naïve style and known for his exotic landscapes and dream-like compositions executed in a stiff and simplified manner. He received no formal artistic training, but studied handbooks, Academic paintings and used ready-made designs found in magazines. He earned a copyist’s permit for the Louvre in Paris in 1884 and took his art seriously while working at the Paris toll service. Rousseau’s style changed little over the course of his career and, like other Naive artists, was characterized by imperfect scale and perspective, although he considered himself a Realist painter. His confidence in assuming the role of professional artist is evident in one of his early works, Myself, Portrait-landscape (1890), which presents the artist with brush, palette and beret against the backdrop of Paris. Although Rousseau’s work was initially ridiculed by critics, his reputation grew over time; in 1905, he exhibited one of his jungle paintings, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope (1905) alongside French artists such as André Derain (1880–1954) and Henri Matisse (1869–1954). Like his other jungle paintings, this work resembles theater décor in its emphasis on surface texture and pattern. Rousseau’s distinct style and method of borrowing from various print sources are particularly evident in dream-like scenes such as Sleeping Gypsy (1897). The work’s fantastical imagery and non-rational juxtaposition between disparate elements were points of reference for Surrealist artists. Rousseau’s work was praised by contemporaries, such as Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), André Breton (French, 1896–1966), and Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866–1944), and his ambition to be considered a modern master was realized posthumously when his paintings were exhibited in the Louvre.

Timeline

1844
Born in Laval
1910
Died in Paris

Exhibitions

1886
Salon des Independants