I Love How You Paint, Henri Rousseau!
"I Love How You" is a monthly column where I feature an artist from history that inspires me.
Henri Rousseau (b. 1844) was a french painter who retired at age 49 from his day job as a tax collector, and proceeded to paint some of the most imaginative, colorful, and beautiful paintings of the primordial jungle ever made. Henri Rousseau was a self-taught painter who created his enormous jungle paintings in his tiny Parisian studio apartment. Also interesting is that Rousseau never traveled outside of Paris — his only references were the urban gardens of Paris, books, and his imagination. Below are five things I love about how Henri Rousseau paints!
1. I love the sense of mystery in his paintings
I remember when I first stood in front of The Sleeping Gypsy I felt still and enraptured in its mystery. A lion stands over an exhausted gypsy as she sleeps under the moonlight. This picture is an enigma to me. What does it mean? How did a lion end up in a desert, and what is he thinking about doing to that poor gypsy? And in The Snake Charmer, who is the flute player? They're creepy, yet also enchanting. Are they charming the snake, or the viewer? I love how the mystery raises an endless string of questions in my mind.
2. I love how he reconnects me with nature
I think something everyone connects with about Rousseau's paintings is that it transports us to the primordial jungle, where life began. There is a primitive human inside of me that longs to reconnect with this lush world, to disappear into the leafy depths of his jungles. His jungle paintings are large too — they literally swallow you up when you stand in front of them!
3. I love his sense of color
Rousseau was a genius colorist! He knew every shade of nature, he understood it intuitively and communicated that love and understanding through his paintings.
4. I love his honesty
Rousseau could have spent his life painting pretty scenes of jungles. Instead, he showed gazelles being devoured by lions right in the center of his beautiful jungles. He recognized the savage and brutal side of life and humanity. It's almost like he's trying to say to not be deceived by beauty and appearances.
5. I love his sense of dimension
Rousseau has a way of sculpting the plants, trees, flowers, and fruits in his paintings to feel like you could walk into his paintings. He created rich layers of depth through the use of shading and composition.
And those are five things that I love about how Henri Rousseau paints! If you love Henri Rousseau as much as I do, I recommend picking up Dreams of the Jungle by Werner Schmalenbach and Recollections of Henri Rousseau by Wilhelm Uhde.
How about you, what do you love about Henri Rousseau? Comment below!