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Biography
HENRI ROUSSEAU
Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910, French primitive painter, b. Laval. He was, from the first, entirely self-taught, and his work remained consistently naive and imaginative. Rousseau was called Le Douanier because before he retired to paint (1885), he held a minor post in the Paris customs service. Although, by his own account, he had lived in Mexico in his youth, his remarkable landscapes have no counterpart in nature.

His jungles are an organized profusion of carefully defined yet fantastic plants, half-concealing various wild animals with staring eyes. These scenes are rendered in a vivid, almost hypnotic folk style. The finest ones include The Snake Charmer (1907; Louvre) and The Dream (1910; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City). With the same approach Rousseau employed in painting the familiar (e.g., Village Street Scene, 1909; Philadelphia Mus. of Art), he painted the haunting and dreamlike Sleeping Gypsy (1897; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City). His fantastic Gypsy sleeps in a nighttime desert, closely observed by a lion—the entire absurdity rendered in a compelling, straightforward manner. The painting thus combines the unique elements of Rousseau's art to their most startling effect. Rousseau exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants from 1886.

Used with permission.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press