Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) is quite an extraordinary painter. “Why?” you would ask. Well, because he is not a painter. Not in traditional sense, at least.
He was born in a small town of Laval, France into a family that was of a pretty far interest from The Arts. They were simple plumbers. His main occupation was a government work, he
worked as a toll collector. Therefore, he got a nickname in the art world – Le Douanier (the customs officer).
He was a self-taught painter and had no art background. Rousseau was laughed at during his lifetime for unprofessional style and child-like paintings, but let us see what were the consequences of his oeuvre.
For example, let’s look at this picture. It is quite similar to the Salvador Dali’s lines and coloring style. Indeed, the Surrealists were interested in Rousseau’s vibrant paintings. His main topics were jungles and exotic animals. However, he never had visited any of the foreign tropical countries, so his works were solely the product of his imagination. Well, not completely; he went through the albums with photos of the wild animals, and some of the scenes made the way to Rousseau’s paintings. He also visited a zoo for inspiration. So his paintings is a combination of the real things and artist’s ideas of the jungle life.
Sounds like a collage technique, which was an innovative one at those years. We do remember the Picasso’s and Duchamp’s collages with mixed real objects and materials on canvases. So here is the line of the development of that process; and Henri Rousseau was a part of it.
The style to which Rousseau’s works are contributed called Naive or Primitive art. Naive art can be described as a folkish, frank and child-like; but at the same time, it gives some new perspectives, unshadowed by the academical rules and art trends.
Among the admirers of Rousseau’s oeuvre are such giants as Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Paul Signac, Fernand Léger, and Andre Breton. His works fascinated the Surrealists, because they were interested in the
pure products of our subconsciousness and everything that goes beneath the rational thinking. Naive art is believed to be
genuine, to depict the reality with the eyes of unprofessional painters in a sincere and bald manner.
The interesting fact, that makes Henri Rousseau even more extraordinary, is that he actually could have painted the realistic paintings. The early work of his showed that he was perfectly capable of the capturing perspective and completing quite sophisticated realistic city landscape. It proves that he has chosen the primitive style purposely. Henri Rousseau’s oeuvre affected many generations of avant-garde artists, and not just by chance, but with the help of his deliberate and unique vision.