Depending on the stage of civilization, the bulk of the world's art may be distinguished as tribal or folk or popular. One of the greatest popular artists to have worked in our hemisphere was the Mexican engraver, José Guadalupe Posada.
Before his death in 1913 Posada may have made as many as fifteen thousand engravings for pamphlets and ballad broadsides. His fantastic, sometimes savage humor, enlivens his greatest series, the calaveras, those endless variations (so beloved by Mexicans) upon the dance of death, a medieval theme which Posada brings merrily up to date.
In his broadsides Posada often celebrated the Mexican victories over Maximilian's army, the army in which Henri Rousseau is said to have served. Rousseau's only print, War, is close to some of Posada's engravings in its popular allegorizing.
Like Posada, Rousseau was entirely, incorruptibly a man of the people yet his ambition was not to entertain or persuade but, simply, to be a great artist. In his own eyes he succeeded. Once, about 1908, he confided to Picasso: "We are the two greatest painters of our epoch, you in the Egyptian style, I in the modern style." Questions of "style" aside, when we stand before The Sleeping Gypsy and The Dream reproduced on the following pages (and, for that matter, certain works of Picasso, pages 69, 83, 93) Rousseau seems in this naive assertion almost as great a critic as he was a painter.