Henri Rousseau, 1844 – 1910

May 21, 1844 – Birthdate of Henri Rousseau, French painter.

Rousseau was a French Post-Impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner.  He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll collector.  Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.  Rousseau’s work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists.

His best-known paintings depict jungle scenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle. Stories spread by admirers that his army service included the French Expeditionary force to Mexico are unfounded. His inspiration came from illustrations in children’s books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of taxidermy wild animals. He had also met soldiers during his term of service who had survived the French expedition to Mexico, and he listened to their stories of the subtropical country they had encountered. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes “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.”

Along with his exotic scenes there was a concurrent output of smaller topographical images of the city and its suburbs.

He claimed to have invented a new genre of portrait landscape, which he achieved by starting a painting with a specific view, such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground.

The Republic of Maldives issued a 10-rufiyaa stamp in 20o4 featuring Rousseau’s painting “Exotic Landscape”

Henri Rousseau - Maldives 2004

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