Henri’s father, Julien Rousseau, was an “ironmonger”, as was his father also. He was a craftsman and had  a little hardware store. My understanding is that he probably manufactured and repaired cups, pots, pans, coffeepots, milk pails, basins, dippers, spoons, flour bins, bread boxes, candlesticks, oil lamps, tools, tin ceilings, and many things that families could use.  Later on, because of  some unfortunate situations in his business and real estate he went bankrupt.  In 1852, their house was sold at auction, and he began selling wine and brandy. In 1854, he was running a little tobacco business. Then he went back to being an “ironmonger.”

Henri Rousseau | Portrait of the Artist's Father | Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), Argentina

Henri Rousseau | Portrait of the Artist’s Father | Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), Argentina

Henri’s mother, Eleonore Guyard, took pride in her military heritage. Her grandfather was a major in the Marching Regiment with Napoleon in Spain, and later he was decorated by the Legion of Honor and was knighted.  Her father had served in the Gold Coast (Africa) as a captain in the Third Battalion. Her father married his first cousin after the birth of their first child, (Eleonore’s older sister). Then he fought in the French invasion of Algeria.  When Eleonore was almost 2, her mother died (1821); and when she was 14, her father died in a military hospital in Algeria (1832).  Eleonore’s grandfather then took care of her, and she was sent to the Legion of Honor boarding school.

In 1837, Henri’s parents, Julien Rousseau and Eleonore Guyard, were married. They lived in Laval, France, a medieval town with walls and a castle.  The “Beucheresse Gate” (woodchopping gate) had a large stone tower on each side of the gate. The Rousseau family lived in the tower on the right side of the gate.  Laval, even today, is a lovely town, and the “Beucheresse Gate”, where little Henri Rousseau was born, is a tourist attraction.

 THE BEUCHERESSE GATE in Laval, France, birthplace of Henri Rousseau

THE BEUCHERESSE GATE in Laval, France, birthplace of Henri Rousseau

The Julien & Eleonore Rousseau family had 2 daughters, Marie-Eleonore and Henrietta-Anatolie. [Years later, Henri’s daughter, Julia, would go to live with Anatolie.]  The Rousseaus also had another daughter who died when she was almost 2 months old. Then came our little Henri-Julien-Felix Rousseau and then his younger brother, Jules Rousseau.  (Jules was a witness at the wedding of Henri and Clemence;  but later in life, Henri felt that their mother favored his brother, Jules, over himself, and Henri would have nothing to do with Jules.)

At age 5, Henri went to the Laval parochial school founded and directed by Abbe [Abbot] Jules Dours.  A sad event made an impression on  little Henri when he was only 8.  The family home was auctioned off because of bankruptcy, and the family had to move.  I am not certain at this point, but I believe Henri boarded at the school until he finished in 1860 or 1861.  Henri did not get very good grades in school, but he did get some certificates of merit for drawing and singing.  After his schooling, he went to live with his family in Angers, France.

Henri was later critical of his parents for not giving him art schooling. But even in those days parents did not want their children to grow up and become starving artists. Besides, they did not know that he would become an artist, and even if they did know, they probably would not have been able to afford the art lessons.


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
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
17. Henri Rousseau | Alfred Jarry | More on “War”| Paul Gauguin GO to PART 17
18. Henri Rousseau | 1895 Paintings |short Autobiography GO TO PART 18

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