A good friend of mine, ‘Kirsty Willingham’, has just introduced me to the work of the artist ‘Henri Rousseau’. I’m astonished how I have not discovered his work before now; the work of an artists whose paintings purvey the very feeling, atmosphere and exuberant lushness that all exotic gardeners strive to create within our gardens.
Henri Rousseau was born on the 21st of May 1844, in Laval, Mayenne in the Loire Valley. He was said to be mediocre in high school, but won prises for his drawings and music. He worked for a lawyer and studied law for a while, but ended up serving in the army for four years from 1863. Following the death of his farther in 1868 he moved to Paris to support his widowed mother, working as a government employee. He married Clemence Boitard in 1868, the fifteen year old daughter of his land lord. They had six children, but sadly only one survived. In 1871, he was appointed as an octroi tax collector on goods entering Paris. His first wife died in 1888 and he then married Josephine Noury in 1898.
All though he was recognised to have an artistic talent from an earl age, it was only in his early forty’s that he began painting seriously. He retired at the age of 49 to paint full time. Rousseau claimed he had “no teacher other than nature”. He admitted taking “some advice” form two established artists ‘Felix Auguste-Clement and Jean-Leon Gerome, but was considered essentially self taught. He painted in layers, starting with the sky, adding layers of foliage, using over fifty shades of green and finishing with animals and people in the foreground. His style of art was not academically recognised, his oeuvre was modest and being relatively poor, he painted using student grade paints. His works were regarded as naïve and primitive, and it was only by a stroke of luck that Pablo Picasso saw one of Rousseau’s canvasses for sale on the street to be painted over. Picasso immediately recognized his talent and went to meet him. In 1908, a banquet was held in his honor bringing his art to the fore.
His best known paintings were of jungles, but remarkably he never left France or saw a jungle. The inspiration for his works came from illustrated books and the botanical gardens of Paris. Rousseau died on the 2nd of September 1910. Although ridiculed during his life, he became recognised as a self taught genius producing works of high artistic technique.
I couldn’t help myself and had to share these paintings for those who, too, may have not yet have discovered these remarkable, colourful and exotic works of art.
Jungle with Tiger and Hunters
Here are a couple of other paintings emulating the style of Rousseau.
Night in Eden Jungle, by Joel Gauthier
Rousseau Jungle, by Louis Rosemond