Henri Rousseau


Artist Biography:

The French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau was born in 1844. He is considered today to be one of the most important painters in the naïve or primitive manner of the 19th century. Rousseau is also known as “le douanier” (the customs officer), after his place of employment. Rousseau was born in Laval and started his career as the assistant to a lawyer but was forced to flee and join the army when he was caught out in what has been described as “a small perjury”. When his father died, Rousseau moved to Paris in 1868 to support his mother. There he married his first wife, Clemence Boitard, with whom he had nine children, only two of whom survived infancy. By 1871 he had been promoted to become a tax collector in Paris, but he began to paint and, at the age of 49, he retired from his post to become a professional painter. Although his work was often ridiculed during his life for its naïve style, he is now considered to be one of the most important artists of the 19th century. Most of Rousseau’s best-known paintings depict jungle scenes, even though he never actually visited the jungle. He painted in layers, starting with the sky in the background and gradually building up the paint on his canvas to end with the people and animals in the foreground of each subject. Within his famous jungle paintings he sometimes used over 50 different varieties of green. Although Rousseau’s early work was not highly regarded, perhaps because of its seemingly childlike style, he did exhibit regularly at the Salon des Independants. Towards the end of his life, he also attracted considerable support from some of the great artistic names of the turn of the 20th century, including Felix Vallotton and Pablo Picasso, who held a banquet in his honour in 1908. Rousseau died in September 1910.

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