Our Art / Henri Rousseau
Lovingly called “Le Douanier” or “toll collector” by his artist friends, Rousseau (1844–1910) retired from his position in French customs at age 50 to work on his art full-time. Although ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, Rousseau is now recognized as a self-taught genius whose work influenced several generations of avant-garde artists. Pablo Picasso first saw Rousseau’s painting sold on the street as scrap canvas to be painted over but he recognized Rousseau’s talent, then meeting and befriending the artist. Although Rousseau received some advice from his artist friends, Rousseau claimed he had "no teacher other than nature.”
Rousseau’s best-known work depicts jungle scenes, although he never left France or saw a jungle. Instead, his inspiration came from illustrations in children's books, animal taxidermy, and botanical gardens. Rousseau described his trips to the Paris botanical gardens, ”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." Rousseau translated these visions in his paintings, creating surreal scenes in his highly personal style, painting rich jungle scenes with vivid colors, ambiguous scale, and dramatic intensity.