French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau was born on May 21, 1844- 170 years ago today! Rousseau’s story is so inspiring- he was entirely self-taught. Henri was born is the Loire Valley in France. He went to Laval High School, where he excelled in drawing and music. His father, who was a plumber, couldn’t afford to support his son’s desire to pursue the arts. In fact, Henri had to become a boarder at his high school when his parents’ house was seized! After finishing school, Henri worked for a lawyer, served in the army for four years, and then, after his father passed away, he returned home to care for his mother and work for the French Customs office.
It wasn’t until he was in his forties that he began seriously painting. At age 49, he retired from his job so he could focus on his art! To support himself financially, he worked odd jobs, like performing as a musician in the streets and teaching violin lessons. During his time (and still often today) critics didn’t treat his paintings as true art. They called his technique childish and his works flat and ordinary. But he continued to follow his dream and paint, regardless of the criticism or his lack of formal training. My favorite fact about Rousseau is that, although he is known for his depictions of colorful jungle scenes, he never traveled to any jungle- in fact, he never left France! He used illustrated books and the Botanical Gardens in Paris as inspiration. If you analyze his paintings, you’ll see that there are lots of animals that could have never been seen together in reality. I absolutely love Rousseau’s paintings- they make me smile. To me, they represent the power of passion and imagination. If they are childish in any way, it is in their childish spirit- Rousseau’s inner child who refused to give up on his dream.
Here are my 6 favorite Rousseau paintings in honor of his special day!
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