Rousseau, Henri

Rousseau, Henri Biography

Self-taught French artist, whose bold colors, flat designs, and imaginative subject matter were praised and imitated by modern European painters. Born in Laval, Henri Rousseau enlisted in the army at the age of 18 and claimed to have served briefly in Mexico. After his discharge, he obtained a position with the Paris toll, which explains his sobriquet Le Douanier (The Customs Official). On his retirement in 1885 he devoted himself to oil painting. Although he lacked formal training, Henri Rousseau soon showed great skill in composition and color. Beginning in 1886 he exhibited his work at the Salon des Independants, winning the admiration of such contemporaries as Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Pablo Picasso. He turned during the 1890s to painting highly original depictions of fantasy. These mature pictures typically depict tropical scenes with human figures at rest or play and with beasts mysteriously charmed to an alert stillness. The Dream (1910) shows a nude reclining on a couch in a vividly colored jungle full of enormous plants, with glaring lions and other animals nearby. In The Sleeping Gypsy (1897) a woman sleeps peacefully in the desert while a lion, its tail in the air, examines her curiously. These oil paintings, along with his Jungle with a Lion (1904-1906), are in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Henri Rousseau's work, admired for its color, composition, and directness, inspired a revival of naive art.

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