Henri Rousseau

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Despite creating some of the most memorable and popular paintings of the modern era, Henri Rousseau faced a lot of scorn in his years as a painter. It is a sad fact indeed as Rousseau’s work was ingenious, and he was an intense visionary. In the UK it took 80 years for his work to be exhibited, today his work ranks as one of the best in terms of modern art and he has inspired a generation of greats including Picasso, Max Ernst and Rene Magritte. These greats regarded Rousseau’s work as what opened the doors to new modern artistic possibilities. Part of the scorn Rousseau faced can be due to his very humble and poor upbringing, he was even mockingly called Le Douanier – the customs officer due to his early job as a toll collector when he had to make ends meet.

Henri Julien Felix Rousseau was born in 1844 Laval, Mayenne in France in to a poor family. His father was a plumber and initially Rousseau struggled academically but won many painting and drawing prizes. Rousseau self-taught himself the art of painting and only pursued it during his retirement years – and yet still managed to make a mark in the art world. Rousseau is considered a visionary due to his bold and lush depictions of jungles, the plants and animal life present there in minute detail and precision. Rousseau’s work is considered visionary as he never physically went to any jungle or forest in his life, his paintings have been borne based on the stories he heard from others during their time in these places. Yet the viewer would not think that when they see Rousseau’s work – it’s like he was there himself and captured the vast beauty of the scene and logged it in his memory. One of Rousseau’s vivid paintings is The Snake Charmer, rich in deep colors of the jungle and the black figure of the snake charmer all have an exceptional dream like quality associated to them. These jungle landscapes and wild beasts became a recurring theme for Rousseau; In Jungle with Lion there is an exotic beauty on display. The central figure of the Lion is seen gazing around in the jungle – the deep orange and green shades of the paintings give Rousseau’s work their own individuality – it is difficult to imagine Rousseau never even left France, for he was able to paint these landscapes so beautifully.

Henri Rousseau treated painting as entering a dream like stance himself, he was enchanted by the stories he heard of these faraway places and would often dream and paint of them at the same time. Part of the scorn Rousseau faced as an artist was because many considered his work to be flat and uninspiring. It was also domineering of some people to not take Rousseau seriously as a painter as he never received any formal training in art. Another great painting of Rousseau’s is The Waterfall, a painting made in his last year. It is a glorious depiction of what he did best, there is wild life and natives and a waterfall falling in a serene manner from black rocks. The painting is very picturesque and is reminiscent of a postcard sent deep from the Amazon. It is surprising to see the criticism Rousseau faced as an artist during his time; it is only a few years after his death that his work started getting the recognition and followers it deserved.

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