A French post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau was criticized explicitly by reviewers for his “childlike” compositions. Yet, despite never leaving France or seeing a forest, the self-taught naive artist rose to fame for his beautiful jungle paintings. The zoo and botanical gardens of Paris, as well as children’s books, served as the inspiration for his now-iconic paintings.
His paintings’ surrealistic quality and vivid, simple manner were particularly captivating to them. Let us discuss Henri Rousseau’s art and the obsession with the jungle he showed through his artwork.
All About Henri Rousseau Art
World-famous painter Henri Rousseau, most known for his depictions of the forest, was a complete outsider in art. Being self-taught, he didn’t paint in the conventional academic manner of the French Academy and Salon. Instead, his works’ rich colors and flat shapes demonstrated an untrained approach.
What’s more interesting is that Rousseau had never been to a jungle, but all of his paintings show how much he was obsessed with it and its creatures. For example, the plants he represented in his paintings were mostly influenced by domestic home plants and his frequent visits to the Paris Botanical Gardens. In contrast, his tiger may have been influenced by the zoo and its Zoology Galleries, which displayed stuffed animals.
Rousseau’s Art Style
Although Rousseau had his sights set on becoming a well-known academic painter, ironically, he ended up becoming the exact opposite—a classic example of a naive artist. Rousseau created a style that exposed his lack of formal education while being largely self-taught. As a result, a collection of work with an air of mystery and unconventionality was produced due to a one-point perspective, an absence of proper proportions, and the use of piercing, frequently unnatural colors.
For a better understanding of his artwork and art style, we have prepared a list of Henri Rousseau’s paintings for you.
Tiger in a Tropical Storm
The first of Henri Rousseau’s famous jungle paintings, Tiger in a Tropical Storm, is also known as Surprised! It depicts a tiger in the jungle that is either getting ready to attack its prey or hiding in fear of the startling flash of lightning. The lashing rain, which was depicted in this piece of art using diagonal strips of translucent silver paint, is another significant element.
Rousseau’s jungle painting appears simplistic, but it was methodically constructed in layers, employing a variety of green tones to portray the lush profusion of the jungle. Additionally, he developed his technique for portraying the pelting rain by strewing diagonal silver paint threads across the canvas.
Some reviewers criticized the painting when it was initially displayed at the Salon des Indépendants in 1891 because of its “childish” composition, particularly the tiger’s flatness and the lack of academic training evident in the surrounding greenery, grass, trees, and plants. But these days, Rousseau’s naivety is lauded along with his flatness due to its uniqueness.
The Snake Charmer
The Snake Charmer was commissioned by Countess Berthe Félicie de Rose, the mother of artist Robert Delaunay. This was the result of the avant-garde community’s rising respect for Henri Rousseau’s work. The Countess’ tales of her stay in the West Indies are said to be the inspiration for the picture.
The picture shows a female snake charmer in a jungle setting, but it has a more otherworldly feel than most of Rousseau’s other jungle-themed pieces. The Musée d’Orsay called the setting a “disquieting Garden of Eden.”
The artwork predates surrealism, which gained popularity in the 1920s, due to its dreamy features, which include the moon giving backlight, exotic vegetation, and the use of vivid, vibrant colors. The Snake Charmer’s asymmetrical arrangement and colorful palette draw attention to Rousseau’s “amateurish” style.
The Dream ( Le Rêve)
Le Rêve is another instance of Henri Rousseau foreseeing surrealism with its ridiculous scene—a woman reclining on a sofa in the jungle—and examination of dreaming. The woman shown is Yadwigha (Jadwiga), Rousseau’s young Polish mistress. In this artwork, A lion, a lioness, several birds, some monkeys, a snake, and an elephant may also be seen if one looks attentively. A native musician playing the flute while wearing a vibrantly striped skirt can also be seen in the painting. Rousseau’s usage of a reclining, naked girl is evocative of those in ancient Greek and Roman art, yet he maintains his naive manner.
The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope
It is considered one of the best Henri Rousseau paintings. Rousseau created The Hungry Lion after returning to jungle paintings after a 10-year hiatus brought on by the poor reaction of Tiger in a Tropical Storm.
A startling amount of the fight scene in the painting’s center, mostly covered by lush trees in front of a setting sun, appears motionless due to the lion and antelope’s empty gazes. The two creatures’ attitudes were modeled after a diorama created for the zoological galleries of the Jardin des Plantes, a place the artist frequented and with a sizable collection of flora and wildlife. The work’s title, which described an antelope as “letting a tear,” illustrates Rousseau’s lack of personal connection with the wild animals he depicted.
Rousseau painted many creatures, such as an owl, another bird, a panther, and an ape-like figure, among the rich jungle greenery in The Hungry Lion, which is similar to his other jungle paintings. The lion and the antelope were modeled by a stuffed display of a lion attacking an antelope at the Natural History Museum in Paris.
This one was the first of several paintings by Henri Rousseau to be shown at the Salon des Indépendants in 1886. The image has a lyrical appeal, especially in Rousseau’s delicate rendering of the wiry tree branches and his use of color to show how the sky at night changes from orange/pink to blue. Rousseau manages to create a little unsettling mood with the bare trees, the face in the hut’s window, and the starry sky. Because of the surrounding darkness and barren forest, the pair in the carnival costumes appear to be in danger.
Rousseau, who is best renowned for his lush forest themes, drew inspiration from his frequent visits to Paris’s gardens. Rousseau produced contemporary, unorthodox landscapes and portraits while drawing inspiration from various high and low-brow sources, including academic sculpture, postcards, tabloid graphics, and visits to the Paris public zoo.
We hope this article will be helpful for you to understand Henri Rousseau’s jungle-obsessed artwork and some of the mesmerizing jungle scenes he created through his art.