Celebrating Henri Rousseau!

Happy belated to the late, Henri Rousseau (May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) 🥳 A French post impressionist Naive (self taught) painter with a checkered past. Born in Laval, Mayenne, France, after highschool, he spent a month in prison for stealing money and stamps before enlisting into the miliary to shorten his prison sentence. After a year he was discharged on compassionate grounds when his father died and he went back home to look after his widowed mother. During this time he made a living working for the government, working as a debt collector, collecting tolls and taxes on goods entering the country. Although exhibiting talent for art from an early age, he did not start painting seriously until his early 40s. Eventually quitting his job to paint full time by 49, supplementing his income by playing violin on the street and doing covers for journals. After relocating to Montmartre, Paris. In 1908, a much younger, up and coming 27 year old, Picasso discovered his work while shopping for canvases to paint over and was impressed. Picasso even presented him with a mock cardboard medal (sort of a joke), during a party in his honour, inviting Henri into his circle of artistic friends. Henri took the gesture in stride and accepted, graciously.

Henri had a liking for telling fancy stories, claiming he was inspired by the tigers he encountered during his military service in Mexico when in actuality there are no records that indicate he ever visited Mexico. Instead, he mostly studied tigers from the zoo, or from depictions of tigers in books, sometimes reusing the same tiger pose in multiple paintings but mirrored versions of them. Referred as a Naive or Primitive painter, Rousseau’s work neglects the conventional forms of perspective, instead opting to depict a world more from imagination. Jungle plants have known to be large and in Rousseau’s painting’s he depicts this, yet maybe without the experience of being in a real juggle, he sometimes depicts this with overexaggerated houseplants. The teeth of tigers are wrongfully depicted as all are the same size and even the grass by the tiger’s feet are hardly bent as one would expect in real life. Rousseau paints from a child-like imagination and invites us into his world of whimsy.

Although not highly regarded during his time, most art critics made fun of his work rather than praised it, he continued painting anyway and showed at the Salon de la Refuse, Paris’s alternative exhibit for the art that was not accepted into the the mainstream shows.

Living a full life, Rousseau married once in 1868 to his landlord’s 15 year old daughter. They had 6 children together but only 1 son survived before she died in 1888. He remarried 1898. After a full and prolific life, Rousseau died unfortunately penniless at 66 from a blood clot after surgery for gangrene of his leg. He was buried in an unmarked grave and almost to be forgotton at the time of his death -only 7 people attended his funeral. As time passed however, his work gained recognition and in 1912, his body was intered in a proper grave paid by Picasso and his friends to include a huge tombstone engraved with an epitah by the poet, Guillaume Apollinaire. In 1947, his body and tombstone were moved again to Laval Park, in the city of his birthplace.

We salute you Gentle Rousseau you can hear us.
Delaunay, his wife, Monsieur Queval and myself.
Let our luggage pass duty free though the gates of heaven.
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas.
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the light and Truth of Painting.
As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gypsy.

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