May 21, 1844. Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (May 21, 1844 - September 2, 1910) was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll and tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties; by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time. In this image: Henri Rousseau, known as The Douanier Rousseau (1844 - 1910) Le Rêve [The Dream], 1910, oil on canvas, 204.5 x 298.5 cm New York, The Museum of Modern Art, gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 252.1954 © 2016. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence.
|The Sleeping Gipsy|
|Portrait of Pierre Loti|
|Monkey in the Jungle|
Born in the market town of Laval, France, Henri Rousseau moved to Paris in 1868 and remained there for the rest of his life. He served as a customs clerk on the outskirts of the city, a post which earned him the nickname "Le Douanier" (the customs agent). A self-taught artist, Rousseau was unable to paint full time until his early retirement in 1893. Despite these unfavorable circumstances, Rousseau had grand ambitions, hoping to join the refined artists of the conservative French Academy.
As an outsider, Rousseau was unfamiliar with the rules of the artistic establishment. Although he worked in traditional genres, producing landscapes, portraits, allegories, and exotic scenes, they were transformed in his hands, made odd in a way that provoked ridicule by traditionalists. Often Rousseau turned to the popular culture of his time and class—illustrated magazines, dime-store adventure novels, postcards, and photographs—integrating its dramatic subjects and bold graphic style into his paintings.
Rousseau was best known for his bold pictures of the jungle, overflowing with flora and fauna. But this painter of exotic locales never left France; his exotic paintings were the concoctions of a city dweller, shaped by visits to the botanical gardens, the zoo, colonial expositions, and images of distant lands seen in books and magazines. Towards the end of his life, Rousseau was championed by a younger generation of avant-garde painters, writers, and their associates, including Pablo Picasso and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who saw in his work new possibilities for the future in his work. In 1911, the year after his death, the Salon des Indépendants celebrated his achievements with an exhibition of more than 40 paintings.