HomeFrench post-impressionist painter: Henri Julien Rousseau

French post-impressionist painter: Henri Julien Rousseau

French painter Henri Julien Felix Rousseau was born in a little-known lowly household. He first enrolled as a day student at Laval High School before switching to boarding. He did poorly in specific high school classes but excelled at music and painting. 

When he “attempted a petty perjury and sought sanctuary in the army,” he served for four years, beginning in 1863, while working for a lawyer and studying law.

Despite being mocked throughout his life, he eventually gained acceptance as an independent, homegrown man with exceptionally talented works. Yes, Henri curved a memorable niche; this post will have a look at some most renowned art painting pieces done by Julien himself. 

Myself, Portrait-Landscape- 1890 

Here, painter Henri Rousseau portrays the pinnacle of greatness to which he aspired as a painter, portraying himself in exaggerated scale, carrying his brush, attire and adorning the typical artistic cap, in front of a vista that includes Paris’ famous monument and other structures adorned in international colors. 

Rousseau finished the portrait in 1890 but later added more autobiographical details to it. He added a ribbon from the order of academic distinction to the lapel in 1901 after taking a job as a drawing instructor at the local institution. On the object, he subsequently depicted the images of his beloved spouses.

This list of Henri Rousseau Jungle paintings subtitle of this work, which introduces a new hybrid genre called the “portrait-landscape,” also alludes to Rousseau’s aspirations to become a well-known academic painter. However, a modern reviewer criticized the inflated portrayal of Rousseau in this work.  

Henri Julien Rousseau – Myself Portrait Landscape

Surprised! Tiger in a Tropical Storm- 1891

The spreading fronds, slanting branches, rain, and dark sky in this painting by Rousseau depict the storm mentioned in the title as a huge, frightening tiger quickly coming out of the lush bush grown all around. Moreover, the painting’s additional names, “Tigers Pursuing Explorers” and “Storm in the Jungle,” raise salient questions about its subject matter. 

The jungle scene, displayed at the Salon des Independents and dealt with a subject matter frequently explored by academic painters, was mocked by several commentators for its glaring amateurishness.

Despite this, some art commentators, such as Felix Vallotton, see this piece as all about Henri Rousseau art and one of the best works. 

Henri Julien Rousseau – Tiger In A Tropical Storm Surprised

The Sleeping Gypsy- 1897

Many people claimed this picture was a counterfeit since it did not depict Rousseau’s typical subjects; some even credited André Derain with creating it. 

A female gypsy is seen in the moonlit scene sleeping in the desert with a mandolin and jug at her side, unbothered and, miraculously, untouched by an inquisitive lion. The perilously sliding level and depiction of the animal and gypsy as though below the viewer’s viewpoint add to the scene’s weirdness.

The image is reminiscent of the Arabian Nights tales, translated into several complete forms beginning in the mid-1880s, and the gypsy is clothed in Eastern attire. Rousseau offered the Mayor of Laval the following description to sell the work to his hometown: “A mandolin player and roaming negress sleeps soundly next to her jug. When a lion walks by that route, he gives her a smell but does not eat her.” 

The Sleeping Gypsy has gained iconic significance for its mysterious, contemplative beauty and portrayal of humankind’s peace with the animal species. 

The Ravenous Lion Attacks the Antelope- 1905

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 with a sizable flora and wildlife collection. 

The work’s title, which described an antelope as “letting a tear,” illustrates that the world-famous painter Henri Rousseau lacked direct knowledge of the wild animals he depicted: “The ravenous lion, flinging himself upon the Antelope, devours him.

The panther waits impatiently for his chance to take a piece of the action. The wretched animal that sheds a tear has had portions of its flesh torn out by birds of prey! The painting, which measured 83 by 122 inches and was on show at the Salon d’Automne in 1905, boldly declared Rousseau’s return to his jungle landscapes after a break from them between 1891 and 1904.

The frescoes and paintings found in caves have been likened to The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope. It was seen as ancient and modern due to its lack of illusionism and depiction of jungle savagery. The painting’s proximity to works by Henri Matisse and André Derain at the Salon may have led one astute reviewer to refer to the young artists as “Fauves, or Wild Beasts.”

The Dream- 1910

The dream is one of the best Henri Rousseau paintings with its strange representation of a naked lady lounging on a sofa in a woodland, the title “The Dream” is a fitting one for the current piece. 

Other wide-eyed lions stare at the bizarre picture or the spectator, as well as vivid, skillfully portrayed flora that featured at least twenty-two hues of green. The woman is also accompanied by other animals that live in the forest.

This image may be seen as Rousseau’s response to the 1800s French imperialist movement into lands. He only knew through visits to monuments and various publishing outlets that printed art. It may be based on a Polish woman he once loved and resembles neoclassical odalisques painted by artists like Ingres. 

The Dream shows why the Surrealists admired Rousseau’s work, especially André Breton, the movement’s founder, who stated, “It is with Rousseau that we can speak for the first time of Magic Realism.” 


Despite having a tough beginning, Henri Julien Rousseau later established himself as one of the most decorated painters. Moreover, some of his pieces have received accolades and awards all over the globe. You’ll surely love his works if you are an art enthusiast.


Most Popular