Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rousseau, Henri

Les Pecheurs a la ligne
oil on canvas
46 x 55 cm
musee de l'Orangerie, Paris, France

Henri Julien Felix Rousseau (1844 - 1910), French Post-Impressionist painter, was the most celebrated of naive artists.  He was, from the first, entirely self-taught, and his work remained consistently in Naive, Primitive and imaginative manner. He is known as Le Douanier (the customs officer) because before he retired to paint, he held a minor post in the Paris customs service, although he never actually rose to the rank of Douanier. At age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art.

He was an outsider, and he was not familiar with the rules of the artistic establishment. His character was extraordinarily ingenuous and he suffered much ridicule as well as enduring great poverty. However, his faith in his own abilities never wavered. He was a regular contributor to Paris exhibitions, but during his lifetime, was viewed with amusement and condescension by both the public and fellow artists. Although he worked in traditional genres, producing landscapes, portraits, allegories, and exotic scenes, they were transformed in his hands. Flattened shapes and perspectives, the freedom of color and style, the subordination of realistic description to imagination and invention are the hallmarks of his work. He never left France or saw a jungle. His jungle landscapes derive from his visits and studies at the Paris Botanical Gardens.

He was buried in a pauper's grave, and soon after his death Rousseau's greatness began to be widely acknowledged. Rousseau came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality, though ridiculed during his life. Rousseau's work exerted influence on several generations of vanguard artists, starting with Picasso, including Leger and the Surrealists. "I hate books. They only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about." Rousseau claimed he had "no teacher other than nature".