Henri Rousseau, The Merry Jesters, 1906


Henry Rousseau, The Merry Jesters, 1906, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Henri Rousseau, who was born on May 21st, 1944, in Laval, Mayenne, is quiet a fascinating person. Originally a customs agent by trade, Rousseau only became a painter at the age of 49. Completely self-taught without any formal art education or training, Rousseau’s work is primitive and simple, almost childlike, with bright and vivid colors and complete disregard for proportion or dimension. Although much of Henri’s work depicts the jungle and its inhabiting wildlife and animals, these subject matters didn’t come from a first person experience, as Rousseau never left France, but they are derived from the artists’ frequent visits to the Paris zoo and gardens. When Rousseau was a young man, after being accused of stealing by his employer and to avoid a scandal, Henri served in the 51st infantry regiment, and although his seven year service went by uneventfully, he tended to embellish the stories of his time in service, at one point telling a wild tale of organizing an uprising against the Emperor of Mexico, an imaginary event that could have served as a great story line for his wild jungle themed works. Rousseau’s work was mostly mocked as childish and was not taken seriously by the art world of his time, however, he did catch the attention of younger, uprising artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Robert Delaunay and German art collector, Wilhelm Uhde, whom he met in 1906 and who was instrumental in promoting Henri’s work towards the end of his life. The Surrealists quickly became fascinated with Rousseau’s work as it resonated the same dream like absurdity and color scheme, mixed with a sense of metaphysical and a hint of irrationality. Andre Breton went as far as refer to Rousseau as a “proto- Surrealist”, in anticipation of arrival of such artists as Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico. Pictured here is Henri Rousseau, The Merry Jesters, 1906, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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