Rendezvous in the forest

By snurfson / Posted on 01 September 2010

Henri Rousseau
Rendezvous in the Forest, 1889

Forest Pictures: Filled with both enchantment and menace, one of Rousseau’s earliest work introduced mysterious images of costumed figures, strangely situated in forests.

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)

Born in the market town of Laval, France, Henri Rousseau moved to Paris in 1868 and remained there for the rest of his life. He served as a customs clerk on the outskirts of the city, a post which earned him the nickname “Le Douanier” (the customs agent).  A self-taught artist, Rousseau was unable to paint full time until his early retirement in 1893.  Despite these unfavorable circumstances, Rousseau had grand ambitions, hoping to join the refined artists of the conservative French Academy. As an outsider, Rousseau was unfamiliar with the rules of the artistic establishment.  Although he worked in traditional genres, producing landscapes, portraits, allegories, and exotic scenes, they were transformed in his hands, made odd in a way that provoked ridicule by traditionalists.  Often Rousseau turned to the popular culture of his time and class—illustrated magazines, dime-store adventure novels, postcards, and photographs—integrating its dramatic subjects and bold graphic style into his paintings.

Rousseau was best known for his bold pictures of the jungle, overflowing with flora and fauna.  But this painter of exotic locales never left France; his exotic paintings were the concoctions of a city dweller, shaped by visits to the botanical gardens, the zoo, colonial expositions, and images of distant lands seen in books and magazines.





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