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Rousseau Henri
Rousseau Henri
Rousseau Henri
(1844-1910)

Rousseau Henri

Rousseau, Henri Julien Félix, called Le Douanier (1844-1910), self-taught French artist, whose bold colors, flat designs, and imaginative subject matter were praised and imitated by modern European painters.

Born in Laval, Rousseau enlisted in the army at the age of 18 and claimed to have served briefly in Mexico. After his discharge, he obtained a position with the Paris toll, which explains his sobriquet Le Douanier (The Customs Official). On his retirement in 1885 he devoted himself to painting. Although he lacked formal training, Rousseau soon showed great skill in composition and color. Beginning in 1886 he exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants, winning the admiration of such contemporaries as Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Pablo Picasso.

After painting mainly portraits and Parisian scenes, he turned during the 1890s to highly original depictions of fantasy. These mature pictures typically depict tropical scenes with human figures at rest or play and with beasts mysteriously charmed to an alert stillness. The Dream (1910) shows a nude reclining on a couch in a vividly colored jungle full of enormous plants, with glaring lions and other animals nearby. In The Sleeping Gypsy (1897) a woman sleeps peacefully in the desert while a lion, its tail in the air, examines her curiously.

These paintings, along with his Jungle with a Lion (1904-1906), are in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Rousseau's work, admired for its color, composition, and directness, inspired a revival of naive art.


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