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Overview (3)

Born in Laval, France
Died in Paris, France
Nickname Le Douanier

Mini Bio (1)

Henri Rousseau (Le Douanier) was born on May 21, 1844, in Laval, Northern France. His father was a plumber. Young Rousseau finished the Lycee in Laval and started as a lawyer's clerk. From 1863-1868 he served in the French Army. From 1869-1893 Russeau worked in a toll booth on the edge of Paris, as a municipal toll collector. For that job he was called "Le Douanier." He never really was a customs officer, but a second-class clerk; he was never promoted on his job and basically collected a fee from farmers coming to Paris markets.

Rousseau began painting in his forties. In 1884 he obtained a permit to sketch in the national museums and spent many hours sketching classical art masterpieces in the Louvre. His job as a toll collector gave him little income, but much time to paint. He also earned some cash as a street musician. Rousseau was self-taught, although he admitted he had received some advice from established Academic artists, including that of Jean-Leon Gerome. Rousseau was inspired by the jungle, but he never was there. His sources of imagination were illustrated books and visits to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Paris. He also used images from a drawing book of his daughter. He could paint bananas growing upside-down and in a few paintings he grouped animals from different continents, that in reality could never have been seen together. It was the genuine feeling and high decorative quality of his paintings that brought him attention from other artists. Pablo Picasso saw a painting by Rousseau being sold on the street as a canvas to be painted over. Picasso bought Rousseau's paintings in recognition of his genius.

His child-like art was created in the Post-Impressionist period and was categorized as Naive or Primitive. From 1886 Rousseau exhibited every year at the Salon des Independants along with the works of Georges Seurat, Armand Guillaumin, Odilon Redon, Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin, and other Post-Impressionists. His greatest wish was to master an academic style, and he genuinely believed that his pictures were real and convincing. Rousseau himself was such a sincere and genuine person, that he interpreted even sarcastic remarks literally and took them as praise. His positive disposition helped him endure great poverty. His working class background was seen as his big drawback by many contemporary critics. Finally the innocence and charm of his works won him the admiration of the leading artists. In 1905 he exhibited his large jungle composition 'The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope' along with Henri Matisse at the first showing of Les Fauves (The Wild Ones).

Rousseau had an influence on such artists as Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, Félix Vallotton, Paul Gauguin, and many others. In 1908 Pablo Picasso bought a few works from Rousseau and gave a banquet at his studio in Rousseau's honor. At the banquet Rousseu was praised by Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Max Jacob and by other artists in a manner, which was half-serious, half-burlesque. Rousseau sincerely believed in the serious half, and later told Picasso: "There are only two real artists in the world, you in "Egyptian style" and I am in "Classical." That's how different and naive was the world of Rousseau, whose genuine views impressed Pablo Picasso as much as his works. During 1909 and 1910 many of Rousseau's paintings were acquired by the dealers Ambroise Vollard and Joseph Brummer. Rousseau's paintings were shown posthumously in 1911, in a retrospective exhibition at the Salon des Independants. Rousseau's works were chosen by Wassily Kandinsky for the first exhibitions of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911 and 1912 that toured Germany. The surrealist movement later considered Rousseau as one of their forerunners.

Henri Rousseau died on September 2, 1910, in Paris, and was laid to rest in the Cimetiere de Bagneux, in Paris, France.

Guillaume Apollinaire wrote the epitaph on Rousseau's tombstone:

We salute you Gentile Rousseau you can hear us

Delaunay his wife Monsier 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

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Trivia (1)

Wrote a play 'La Vengeance d'une orpheline russe' and composed several pieces of music.

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