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Artist Discussion: Henri Julien Felix Rousseau

Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (1844-1910)

Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was a French self-taught painter. His best-known painting depicts jungle scenes despite his never having traveled and never having seen the real jungle. Instead, his inspiration came from the botanical gardens in Paris as well as illustrations from children’s books, and taxidermized animals.

In his early years he studied law but then joined the army. He served four years but upon his fathers’ death he moved to Paris and supported his widowed mothers as a government employee.

He began to paint at age 40, and was known as Le Douanier. This was a joke among his friends as he never reached the rank of Douanier. He exhibited his work regularly in the Salon des Independents. By the age of 49 he retired from his job to work on his art full-time. Some people (the public as well as art critics) were critical of his work and he was ridiculed, however his work influenced many non- traditional or avant-garde artists. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Toulouse Lautrec were all admirers of his work. He became recognized as a self- taught genius who work is highly individualistic. He said of his work that he had “no teacher other than nature.”

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) 1891 received his first serious review.


Self Portrait, 1890

Exotic Landscape 1908

La Bohemienne Endormie

(The Sleeping Gypsy), 1897 was one of his most famous paintings.

Seven of his friends attended his funeral: the painters Paul Signac and Manuel Ortiz de Zárate, the artist couple Robert Dalaunay and Sonia Terk, the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Rousseau's landlord Armand Queval, and Guillaume Apollinaire.

The sculptor Constantin Brancusi created a memorial stone which was engraved with the epitaph written by Guillaume Apollinaire.

“We salute you Gentle 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 and Truth of Painting. As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gypsy.”

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