Henri Rousseau & Alfred Jarry

Anyone spending much time studying Henri Rousseau will come across the name of Alfred Jarry.  It is commonly believed that Alfred Jarry met Henri Rousseau at the 1894 Salon of the Independents.  Jarry was 20, Henri was 50.  The impulsive, young idealist meeting the older, gentle, “battle-scarred” painter who was still following his dream.  Jarry seemed to take an instant liking to Henri. Of course Henri was a friendly fellow, and maybe Jarry looked up to him like a father figure.  Jarry admired Rousseau as a painter: Rousseau did not conform to the expectations of the establishment – he was not an anarchist, but he was true to his own instincts.  Also, they were both from Laval, and they discovered that Jarry’s father and Henri Rousseau had been schoolmates.

Alfred Jarry and his bicycle

Alfred Jarry and his bicycle

We could discuss much about Alfred Jarry:  his childhood in a broken home;  his physics teacher, Felix Hebert, whom Jarry morphed into Pere Ubu;  his intelligence and education;  his somewhat small stature;  his early writings;  his short stint in the military;  his “Bohemian” lifestyle;  his exploits with the revolver;  his bicycle;  his apartment with a very low ceiling, (because the landlord had divided one flat into two apartments – for short people); his notorious (or infamous) play, Ubu Roi;  his invention of  “pataphysics”;  his black cape and hat; his eccentric way of speaking; his writings and their effect upon literature;  his owl and cats;  his love affair with alcohol, especially absinthe;  his poverty;  and his early death from tuberculosis in 1907 at age 34.  But we mention Alfred Jarry because he was the first person to seriously appreciate and promote Henri Rousseau and to bring him, in a positive way, to the attention of the public.

Perhaps around 1893 (?), age 20(?), Jarry began his association with Alfred Valllette and the Symbolist writers at Mercure de France Also, from 1893 to 1894 Jarry helped produce  L’Art Litteraire with Francois Coulon and Louis Lormel.[1]  He then joined with Remy de Gourmont to produce a little art magazine entitled L’Ymagier It was published only eight times, from October, 1894 to December, 1896.[2]  Their choice of material was somewhat eclectic, but focused more on art. They included primitive art, symbolism, religious themes, engravings, art by lesser-known artists, old songs, some of their own editorials and artwork, and much more.  Jarry had a disagreement with Gourmont, and  started his own publication, Perhinderion, which was only published twice, March and June, 1896. [3]  But he still made some contributions to L’Ymagier,

 Jarry was very impressed by Rousseau and his War painting.  He wrote reviews in L’Art Litteraire and Essais d’art libre [June/July, 1894]. He asked Henri Rousseau to make a lithograph, based on his War painting, to be included in their second issue of L’Ymagier (January, 1895).

"War" lithograph | Henri Rousseau | published in L'Ymagier, 1895 | Museum of Modern Art, New York

“War” lithograph | Henri Rousseau | published in L’Ymagier, 1895 | Museum of Modern Art, New York

 It was probably through Jarry’s influence that Louis Roy, a young artist, wrote a review of War in the March, 1895 Mercure de France:

At the Exposition des Artistes Independants in 1894, Monsieur Rousseau’s War was certainly the most remarkable canvas.”
“This picture .   .   .  represents a courageous attempt to create symbol.”
“Why should oddity give rise to mockery? . . . Monsieur Rousseau has encountered the fate of all innovators.  He continues along his own path; he has the merit, a rare one today, of being completely himself.   He is tending toward a new art  .  .  .  .  One would be dishonest to be so bold as to maintain that the man capable of suggesting such ideas to us is not an artist.”

Alfred Jarry

Alfred Jarry

At the end of June, 1894, Rousseau began working on a portrait of Jarry. Rousseau entered Jarry’s portrait in the 1895  Salon of the Independents. Because of Jarry’s long hair, the portrait was mistakenly listed in the catalogue as Portrait of Madame A.J.

A friend described the portrait in this way:
“The poet, dressed in black, is seated.  Around him are the animals he likes best:  the owl and the chameleon   The chameleon’s tongue, on his ear, was mistaken by one critic for a penholder.” [5]

What happened to the portrait? The only information I found was written by Roger Shattuck:

“The Jarry portrait no longer exists. According to the several versions of the story, Jarry, having brought it to his room in the rue Cassette, either burned it accidentally, or cut away the background and kept only the head, or cut out the head and kept only the background.  Andre Salmon supplies the final refinement: ‘He liked to say that, afraid of piercing himself [i.e., the portrait] in an awkward flourish of his umbrella, he cut himself out carefully and kept himself rolled up in the “long central drawer of our whitewood Colbert desk.” ‘  Whatever its fate in Jarry’s hands, the portrait has been lost.”[6]

Alfred Jarry will make more appearances in the life of Henri Rousseau as we continue:

  • In 1895, he encouraged Rousseau to write a short autobiography of himself for Portraits for the Coming Century.
  • In 1897, when Jarry was in dire circumstances, he stayed with Rousseau for a short time in his apartment.
  • Jarry continued to write about Rousseau, and it was he who nicknamed Rousseau “Le Douanier” (customs officer).
  • In 1906-1907, he introduced Rousseau to Guillaume Apollinaire.

Henri Rousseau & Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin already knew of Rousseau’s work.  He had seen Rousseau’s paintings at the 1890 Salon of the Independents and reportedly said, “This is truth   .   .   .   the future.  This is painting!  This is the only thing we can look at here.”[7]  And certainly Gauguin had seen Rousseau’s “War” painting,  because he admired Rousseau’s use of black.  However, it was possibly Jarry who more officially introduced Paul Gauguin to Rousseau. Jarry had gone with Gauguin to Point-Aven and then had included some of his work in L’Ymagier. And as we have already seen, Jarry was very enthusiastic about Rousseau.

Paul Gauguin, Alfons Mucha, Luděk Marold, and Annah the Javanese girl at Mucha's studio, 1893

Paul Gauguin, Alfons Mucha, Luděk Marold, and Annah the Javanese girl at Mucha’s studio, 1893

Paul Gauguin had gone to Tahiti in 1891 and had been living  as a native, sometimes dressed only in a loin-cloth.  He left his 13-year-old (?) Tahitian wife and returned to France in August, 1893. [8] In November, 1893, there was an exhibit of his artwork at the gallery of Paul Durand-Reuel. Gauguin considered it a very great success. Nonetheless, he was unhappy in Europe; and he began making plans to return to Tahiti. “The Europeans are unremittingly hostile to me; those good savages will understand me.” [July 26, 1894, letter to Emile Schuffenecker] “I’ll work at selling everything I own  .   .   .   . Once I have that capital, I’ll leave for Oceania again   .   .   .   .Nothing will keep me from leaving, and when I leave it’ll be forever.” [September, 1894, letter to William Molard] [9]

During his brief stay in France he rented an apartment on rue Vercingetorix, not far from Rousseau’s residence on Avenue du Maine. Roger Shattuck says that William “Molnard and Gauguin entertained every Saturday.  The Douanier frequently appeared with or without invitation and moved unabashedly among such guests as Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, August Strindberg, and Stephane Mallarme.  Sometimes he brought his fiddle and gave a short concert.”[10]

For more on Paul Gauguin, See Ambroise Vollard and Paul Gauguin” in Part 16. GO to PART 16

[1] “L’Ymagier”- Wikipedia
[2] Spencer Museum of Art, Univ. of Kansas, 1998 exhibition
[3] Ibid
[4] Henri Rousseau, MOMA, 1985, p.121
[5] The World of Henri Rousseau, Yann le Pichon, (Viking Press, NY, 1982), p.258
[6] Henri Rousseau, MOMA, 1985,  p.15
[7] Yann le Pichon, p. 255.
[8] Noa Noa, The Writings of a Savage (Da Capo Press, NY, 1996), edited by Daniel Guerin, pp.74-100.
[9] The Writings of a Savage , p. 104
[10] Henri Rousseau, MOMA, 1985, p.15

NEXT: Henri Rousseau, Part 18 | 1895 Paintings | short Autobiography  GO TO PART 18

1. The Story of a Man determined to be one of the Greatest Painters in France GO TO PART 1
2. Born in FRANCE|Kings & Castles|Revolution|Napoleon|Victor Hugo GO TO PART 2
3. Henri Rousseau | His Family and Childhood GO TO PART 3
4. Henri Rousseau | SOLDIER BOY GO TO PART 4
6: Henri Rousseau | Sunday Painter | Love and Life in Paris GO TO PART 6
7. Henri Rousseau | Six Children Died / Only Julia Lived Past Age 18. GO TO PART 7
8. Henri Rousseau | Paris Customs Office (The Douanier) | Painting on the Job GO TO PART 8
9. Henri Rousseau | 1884 – not good enough | The French Art Salons GO TO PART 9
10. Henri Rousseau | 1885 Debut | 1886 A Carnival Evening GO TO CHAPTER 10
11. Henri Rousseau | Adieu, Mon Cher Amour. GO TO PART 11
12. Henri Rousseau | 1889 World’s Fair GO TO PART 12
13. Henri Rousseau | 1891 | Surprised! GO TO PART 13
14. Henri Rousseau | Looking for Love in Paris | 1893 | Moving to Montparnasse GO TO PART 14
15. Henri Rousseau | full-time painter | “War” in 1894 | Julia: “Au revoir, papa” GO TO PART 15
16. Henri Rousseau | Ambroise Vollard – the art dealer GO TO PART 16

Enfant de Fleur: Authentic, Unretouched Portrait by Henri Rousseau: GO TO PORTRAIT
Enfant de Fleur/Flower Child: Child Portraits Compared: GO TO CHILD PORTRAITS
Enfant de Fleur: Is Flower Child his granddaughter ? GO TO GRANDDAUGHTER
Henri Rousseau Paintings in Museums around the World GO TO MUSEUM PAGE
Enfant de Fleur/Flower Child: Fine Art Investment Opportunity GO TO OPPORTUNITY

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