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Henri Julien Félix Rousseau

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Henri Rousseau is also known as "Le Douanier". He was a self-taught artist and is considered one of the most remarkable primitive painters. His bold colours, flat designs, and imaginative subject matter were praised and imitated by modern European painters.  

Rousseau was born in Laval, the son of a tinsmith. He abandoned his secondary school education and entered military service, during which he met soldiers who had returned from Mexico after the French campaign to support Emperor Maximilian. It was their descriptions of the country that almost certainly inspired the lush, vivid jungle scenes that were to be the subject of much of Rousseau's paintings. 

After his discharge from the army, he obtained a position with the Paris toll, which explains his sobriquet "Le Douanier" [The Customs Officer]. On his retirement in 1885 he devoted himself to painting.  

  • Umm Al Qiwain 1967.  Henri Rousseau, self portrait, painted around 1902-03.  Issued 15th July 1967.  Michel # 199 AB. 

Umm Al Qiwain 1967. Henri Rousseau: Self-Portrait 1902-1903.

Although he lacked formal training, Rousseau soon showed great skill in composition and colour. From 1886 on he exhibited his work at the Salon des Indépendants, winning the admiration of such contemporaries as Paul Gauguin and Georges Seurat. After painting mainly portraits and Parisian scenes, during the 1890s he turned to highly original depictions of fantasy. These mature pictures typically depict tropical scenes with human figures at rest or play and with beasts mysteriously charmed to an alert stillness. 

France 1967. Henri Rousseau: "Father Juniet's Gig". 1908. Monaco 1994. Henri Rousseau: "The Snake Charmer". 1907.

His character was extraordinarily ingenuous and he suffered much ridicule (although he sometimes interpreted sarcastic remarks literally and took them as praise). However, his faith in his own abilities never wavered. His works are of great imaginative power, in which he showed his extraordinary ability to retain the utter freshness of his vision even when working on a large scale and with loving attention to detail. 
Tchad 1968. Henri Rousseau: "La Guerre".  1894.

He claimed such scenes were inspired by experiences in Mexico, but in fact his sources were more likely to be illustrated books and visits to the zoo and botanical gardens in Paris. 

He tried to paint in the academic manner of traditionalist artists, but it was the innocence and charm of his work that won him the admiration of the avant-garde. 

The painting to the left, "La Guerre", has some of this imaginative power. Although clearly depicting a war, it looks more like children playing a violent war-like game than the traditional picture one has of a war-scene. 

Rousseau is known both as a post-impressionist painter, the archetype of the modern naive artist, and the grandfather of Surrealism. 

Rousseau died September 2, 1910 in Paris at the age of sixty-six. Appolinaire wrote the epitaph written on Rousseau's tombstone.

We salute you
Gentile Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
of heaven
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth
Painting as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars

In 1911, one year after the artist's death, Wilhelm Uhde organized a memorial exhibition for Rousseau in the Salon des Independents and published the first biography of the artist. Henri Rousseau's paintings now began to sell. In this he shared the same fate with Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and many of his contemporaries. 

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