Paris had suffered greatly during the siege in the Franco-Prussian War (September, 1870-January, 1871). Then there was the bloody street fighting in which the French Army defeated the Paris Commune (March-May, 1871). Finally,by 1872,some normalcy had returned to Paris.
Henri had been married to Clemence about 2 1/2 years. Their first child had died during the siege of Paris. Now we come to February 1, 1872. Henri Rousseau, age 27, started working for the Paris Customs Office. He stayed at his job 21 years and 10 months until he retired on December 1, 1893.
THE PARIS CUSTOMS OFFICE
charged a tax, called l’octroi, on most goods brought into the city. A wall surrounded Paris, and everyone entered the city through one of the gates. A little book entitled A Handbook for Visitors to Paris (published by John Murray in 1872, p. 200) gives interesting statistics about the octroi. The book says there were 66 octroi gates into the city at the time, and about 2,000 officers were employed. Every carriage and cart entering the city was searched. A duty had to be paid on each taxable item. Butcher’s meat: 9-10 francs/100 kilogams. Wine: 18 francs/hectoliter (in cask) or 25 francs/hectoliter (in bottles). An 1866 edition of the same book said the tax on an ox was 63 francs, a cow was 10 francs, a sheep was 5 francs. Visitors today can still sees some of the old octroi buildings in Paris. The citizens of Paris strongly disliked the octroi, but the government needed the money.
Rousseau’s painting, The Customs House (1890), shows the uniformed employees of the Paris Customs Office at an octroi (toll) gate entering Paris.
We know that Paris was the hub for the railway system, so I assume that the trains would have been searched also. And of course the Seine River flows through Paris, so officers would be assigned to watch/guard each quay (wharf, dock) to make sure nobody smuggled goods into the city without paying the tax.
In this painting, View of Ile Saint-Louis from the Port of Saint Nicolas (Evening), Henri painted watchmen from the Paris Customs Office guarding the docks at night. He completed this painting for the 1888 Salon of the Independents.
Alfred Jarry, one of Henri’s friends later in his life, called Henri “the Douanier” (customs officer). In reality, Henri did not attain to that position in his job. My understanding is that Henri was more like a uniformed security guard or watchman. In a June 25, 1884 letter to the Minister for Public Education and Fine Arts, Henri (age 40) described himself as “only a low-ranking employee.” When he retired, he was an “ambulant clerk, first class.”
PAINTING ON THE JOB.
Later in life (in a 1907 letter),Henri Rousseau admitted that his superiors in the Octoi gave him easier shifts on his job so that he could have time to paint. His friend and biographer, Wilhelm Uhde, spoke a little more bluntly, “Rousseau had been next to worthless in the service.” “His job had been to hang around the quai like a watchman, keeping an eye on the barges.” “Rousseau had always been the silent sort, never willing to say much about anything or anybody. He had preferred to sneak off somewhere alone and fiddle with his pictures and paints. It had been the same wherever he was stationed – at the Pont de la Tournelle, out at the fortifications, at the Porte de Meudon.”
DURING THE TIME HE WORKED AT THE OCTROI:
1885 His first art show. (He showed 2 paintings at “the Salon.”)
He also composed a waltz entitled “Clemence.”
1886 He displayed 4 paintings, including, A Carnival Evening, at the second Salon of the Independents.
1887 He showed 3 paintings at the third Salon of the Independents.
1888 He showed 5 Paintings and 5 drawings in the fourth Salon of the Independents.
His wife, Clemence, died.
1889 He showed 3 paintings in the fifth Salon of the Independents.
1890 Henri brought Myself, Landscape Portrait to the sixth Salon of the Independents, along with a painting by his daughter, Julia, and some more of his own work. In this painting, the customs booth, where he stood guard, is on the right. He is dressed in his Sunday-best clothes.
1891 Henri Rousseau enters 7 paintings in the seventh Salon of the Independents.
1892 He shows 6 or 7 paintings at the eighth Salon of the Independents.
1893 The ninth Salon of the Independents. Henri entered 6 paintings.
Also in 1893, Henri; his mistress, Gabrielle; his daughter, Julia; and his son, Henri, moved to 44 Avenue du Maine, not too far away, in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, in Montparnasse.
December 1, 1893. Henri Rousseau is 49. After many attempts through the years, Henri failed to find an art patron or government sponsor to support him financially. Despite his relatively small pension of 1019 francs/year, Henri decided to retire and devote himself to his art.
NEXT: Part 9: Henri Rousseau |1884 – not good enough | The French Art Salons GO TO PART 9
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
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