The Luxembourg Gardens. Monument to Chopin Poster
Monument to Chopin
Medium: Oil on canvas
Housed at: Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Recommended printing size at 300 PPI: 14x11 in
Closest to original: Approx. 18.5x15 in
Maximum at 100 PPI: 42x33 in
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Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) was a French Post-Impressionist painter in the Naive or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer) after his place of employment. Ridiculed during his life, he came to be recognised as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.
Henri Rousseau was born in Laval, Mayenne in the Loire Valley into the family of a plumber. He attended Laval High School as a day student and then as a boarder, after his father became a debtor and his parents had to leave the town upon the seizure of their house. He was mediocre in some subjects at the high school but won prizes for drawing and music. He worked for a lawyer and studied law, but "attempted a small perjury and sought refuge in the army," serving for four years, starting in 1863. With his father's death, Rousseau moved to Paris in 1868 to support his widowed mother as a government employee. In 1871, he was promoted to the toll collector's office in Paris as a tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties, and by age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art. His wife died in 1888 and he later remarried.
Rousseau claimed he had "no teacher other than nature", although he admitted he had received "some advice" from two established Academic painters, Félix Auguste-Clément and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Essentially he was self-taught and is considered to be a naive or primitive painter.
His best known paintings depict jungle scenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle. Stories spread by admirers that his army service included the French expeditionary force to Mexico are unfounded. His inspiration came from illustrated books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of taxidermied wild animals. He had also met soldiers, during his term of service, who had survived the French expedition to Mexico and listened to their stories of the subtropical country they had encountered. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes: "When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream."
Along with his exotic scenes there was a concurrent output of smaller topographical images of the city and its suburbs.
He claimed to have invented a new genre of portrait landscape, which he achieved by starting a painting with a view such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground.
Criticism and recognition
Rousseau's flat, seemingly childish style gave him many critics; people often were shocked by his work or ridiculed it. His ingenuousness was extreme, and he was unaware that establishment artists considered him untutored. He always aspired, in vain, to conventional acceptance.Many observers commented that he painted like a child, but the work shows sophistication with his particular technique.
From 1886 he exhibited regularly in the Salon des Indépendants, and, although his work was not placed prominently, it drew an increasing following over the years. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) was exhibited in 1891, and Rousseau received his first serious review, when the young artist Félix Vallotton wrote: "His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed; it's the alpha and omega of painting." Yet it was more than a decade before Rousseau returned to depicting his vision of jungles.