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Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was an amateur oil painter with a direct, simple and hauntingly naive vision who painted some unusually large and complicated paintings of elaborately fanciful and picturesquely exotic subjects in a matter-of-factly pedestrian technique and strong color. He was a customs official by profession, hence his nickname Le Douanier and began painting in about 1880, exhibiting with the Independents from 1866.

The Dream (1910) was one of Henri Rousseaus last oil paintings, and certainly the last he sent for exhibition. The final months of his life were marred by an unrequited love affair. He had fallen in love with a woman 12 years his junior, the daughter of one of his former colleagues, and she did not return his affection. It has been proposed that the subject in The Dream, a naked woman stretching out her hand, reflects the confused emotional state which Rousseau was suffering at the time. However, all the elements in the oil painting can be discovered in artworks of previous years. When it was sent for exhibition in March 1910, a poem was attached to its frame: Yadwigha in a beautiful dream, While sleeping peacefully, Heard the notes of the pipe played by a thoughtful snake charmer, While the moon casts its light, On the flowers and verdant trees, The wild snakes listen, to the gay tunes of the instrument.