Self-Taught Genius: How Did Henri Rousseau Start Painting 

Self-Taught Genius: How Did Henri Rousseau Start Painting 

Henri Rousseau lived from May 21, 1844, to September 2, 1910, and was a post-impressionist. He began painting late in life and was much derided in his day. Still, he was eventually acknowledged as a genius and significantly impacted subsequent avant-garde painters.

Working Class Origins

French painter Henri Rousseau was born in France’s Mayenne region’s capital, Lava. He had to work alongside his tinsmith father since he was a young child because his father was one. As a result, he was average in some subjects while he was a student at the nearby Laval High School; where he did well in the arts and even won awards for his music and drawing. 

The world-famous painter Henri Rousseau sought to pursue a legal profession after graduating high school. He started his studies and began working for a lawyer; but he had to give up that employment when he was charged with perjury. So instead, he enrolled in the army and served there from 1863 to 1867 for four years. 

Rousseau had to support his widowed mother after his father’s death in 1868. After resigning from the army, he relocated to Paris and accepted a position with the government as a toll and tax collector.

Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau, French Post-Impressionist painter, 1902

Rousseau was mostly self-taught, and although his simple, rudimentary painting style was generally derided at the time, he became recognized as a significant artist. Getty Images / Print Collector

World-famous painter Henri Rousseau married Clémence Boitard, his first wife, in the same year. She was just fifteen years old, the daughter of his landlord, and nine years older than her. Only one of the couple’s six children, Julia Rousseau, lived to adulthood. Rousseau took up a new position in 1871, collecting taxes on commodities entering Paris.

Early Exhibits

Rousseau started displaying his artwork in the Salon des Indépendants, a Parisian gallery established in 1884 and co-founded by Georges Seurat in 1886. The government-sponsored Salon’s conservatism, which placed a strong emphasis on traditionalism and was not particularly open to new creative ideas, prompted the establishment of the Salon. So even though Henri Rousseau’s art wasn’t prominently included in the shows, it was the ideal match for him.

Although he acknowledged receiving some “guidance” from two Academic-style painters, Félix Auguste Clément and Jean-Léon Gérôme, Rousseau was largely self-taught. He specialized in painting portrait landscapes and natural settings, where he would first paint a subject and then add a person to the foreground. 

His approach lacked some of the advanced methods used by other artists of the time, which led to reviewers calling Henri Rousseau’s paintings “naive.” 

Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings and other artwork attracted more admirers. Tiger in a Tropical Storm was displayed in 1891, and it received its first significant review and high acclaim from Felix Vallotton. Rousseau relocated to a studio in the Montparnasse district of Paris in 1893.

Ongoing Career in Paris

One year after losing his first wife, Rousseau wed Josephine Noury, who had lost her first husband. Josephine passed away four years later, in 1892. Ahead of his 50th birthday, in 1893, Rousseau legally left his position as a government employee and committed himself to his artistic endeavors. 

The Sleeping Gypsy, one of Rousseau’s best-known compositions, initially performed in 1897. The piece immediately gained popularity. 

In 1905, a mass release list of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings included elements from his earlier paintings and showed all about Henri Rousseau’s art. The title of the picture that was once more on show at the Salon des Indépendants is The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope. Henri Matisse was one of the budding artists whose work was on exhibit next to Rousseau’s. 

It was exhibited with pieces by a group of younger painters leaning more and more toward the avant-garde. In retrospect, the collection was seen as Fauvism’s debut. His artwork may have even served as the idea for the term “the Fauves” group; “the Fauves” is French for “the wild creatures.”

Henri Rousseau other work:

Rousseau never reached the highest levels, but his standing in the creative society continued to rise. However, he given the commission to paint The Snake Charmer in 1907 by Berthe, Comtesse de Delauney, the mother of fellow artist Robert Delauney. Contrary to misconceptions, he never visited Mexico; instead, he drew inspiration for the forest images from other sources.

One of the best Henri Rousseau paintings sold on the street when Pablo Picasso stumbled upon it in 1908. After being moved by the picture, he hurried to meet Rousseau. Pioneering the artist and their work, Picasso hosted Le Feast Rousseau, a banquet equally serious and humorous celebration of Rousseau. 

Numerous well-known members of the time’s creative community attended the event, which was more of a gathering of creative minds to celebrate their art than a glitzy celebration. It was viewed in retrospect as one of its most important social occasions.

Henri Rousseau

Declining Health and Legacy

During that month, he suffered an abscess on his leg, but he ignored the swelling until it too late. His leg had become gangrenous by the time he eventually taken to the hospital in August. He had a blood clot removed after surgery, and on September 2, 1910, he passed dead. Author Henri Rousseau’s The Dream

Despite criticism throughout his life, Rousseau’s avant-garde painting significantly impacted Picasso, Fernand Leger, Max Beckmann, and the entire surrealism movement. In addition, Rousseau’s paintings have served as an inspiration for writers like Joni Mitchell and poets Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath. 

The aesthetic universe of the animated feature Madagascar was inspired by one of Rousseau’s paintings, which is maybe the most surprising relationship. His art is still on display now, and it is more thoroughly examined and valued than it ever was while he was alive.


While the famous painter Henri Rousseau thought to have not realized his full potential, he is one of the most famous painters. Moreover, his works garnered wide admiration and have used in many curriculum settings. 

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