Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau (äNrē´ rōōsō´), 1844–1910, French primitive painter, b. Laval. He was entirely self-taught, and his work remained consistently naive and imaginative. Rousseau was called Le Douanier [the customs officer] because he held a minor post in the Paris customs service for more than 20 years before he retired to paint (1893). Although he claimed to have lived in Mexico in his youth, he later admitted that the claim was false. The only tropical vegetation Rousseau ever saw was in Parisian greenhouses, and his remarkable landscapes had no counterpart in nature. His painted jungles are an organized profusion of carefully defined yet fantastic plants, half-concealing various wild animals with startlingly staring eyes. These scenes are rendered in a vivid, almost hypnotic folk style. The finest ones include The Snake Charmer (1907; Louvre) and The Dream (1910; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City). With the same approach Rousseau employed in painting the familiar (e.g., Village Street Scene, 1909; Philadelphia Mus. of Art), he painted the haunting and dreamlike Sleeping Gypsy (1897; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City). His fantastic Gypsy sleeps in a nighttime desert, closely observed by a lion—the entire absurdity rendered in a compelling, straightforward manner. The painting thus combines the unique elements of Rousseau's art to their most startling effect. Rousseau exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants from 1886, but did not become well known until the early years of the 20th cent. when he was "taken up" by Picasso, Apollinaire, and other members of the Parisian avant garde.

See R. Shattuck, The Banquet Years (1958, repr. 1968); studies by D. Vallier (1964), D. C. Rich (1946, repr. 1970), G. Adriani (2001), and F. Morris, C. Green, and N. Ireson, ed. (2006).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Henri Rousseau: Selected full-text books and articles

Twentieth Century Painters: From Cubism to Abstract Art By Bernard Dorival; Arnold Rosin Universe Books, 1958
Librarian's tip: "The Advancement of Naive Painting" begins on p. 7 and "Rousseau, Henri, Known as Le Douanier (1844-1910)" begins on p. 170
Great French Painting in the Hermitage By Charles Sterling Harry N. Abrams, 1958 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Henri Rousseau begins on p. 148
A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art By Ian Chilvers Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Naive Art" begins on p. 427
Paris in Our Time By Pierre Courthion Skira, 1957
Librarian's tip: "The Poet's Suburbs" begins on p. 91
A Gertrude Stein Companion: Content with the Example By Bruce Kellner Greenwood Press, 1988
Librarian's tip: "Rousseau, Henri" begins on p. 248
Noble Salvage By Shone, Richard Artforum International, Vol. 39, No. 5, January 2001
Henri Rousseau Carnival Evening By Losos, Carol M School Arts, Vol. 93, No. 4, December 1993
The Imaginary World of Henri Rousseau By Henderson, Anne School Arts, Vol. 98, No. 7, March 1999
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