Rousseau, Henri Julian Félix (1844–1910) By Protz, Uta
A highly original artist who was largely self-taught, the French painter Henri Rousseau is widely considered the most celebrated of naïve artists and an important pioneer of Surrealism. Not known to have travelled outside France, he is best known today for his large jungle scenes, of which he painted at least twenty-five. Full of lush foliage and exotic animals, they were inspired by images in the popular press as well as visits to the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and the Jardin des Plantes, an important botanical garden and zoo in Paris. Besides his jungle scenes, Rousseau also painted history paintings celebrating the still young Third Republic, suburban landscapes showing the life of the petite bourgeoisie, still lifes and portraits, such as the full-length Portrait of a Woman (c. 1895) and the two smaller portraits representing the artist and his second wife (c. 1900–03) once owned by Pablo Picasso. Not lacking in confidence, but always striving for recognition, Rousseau appreciated the support he received from the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painter Robert Delauney, both of whom became close friends. Whereas certain members of the avant-garde admired Rousseau’s paintings for their charm and innocence, others, however, regarded them as outright eccentric.