1885, HENRI ROUSSEAU, AGE 41, MADE HIS DEBUT IN THE ART WORLD.
The first two paintings which Henri Rousseau entered in a salon were Italian Dance (“rustic peasants” dancing “One fine Sunday in spring”) and A Sunset. Henri tried to show his paintings in the Salon [the Palais des Champs -Elysees (May 1-June 30, 1885)]. He wrote in his scrapbook of press clippings that someone cut one of his paintings with a knife. He exhibited his paintings again with a group of “refuses” in June, 1885.
Henri put four newspaper articles in his scrapbook. One article in L’Evenement recommended Italian Dance to the amis de la gaiete (friends of merriment). Another writer in La Revue des Beaux Artssaid you would not need a long stop to review Rousseau’s “primitive” work. “We are not yet accustomed to this kind of imagery, very amusing, however.” Another writer was not so kind, and said that #289, Italian Dance, was obviously the work of a 10-year-old child. Someone from La Vie Moderne was even more unmerciful, and wrote that Rousseau’s paintings looked like scribbles of a 6-year-old who had just been entrusted with a box of colors from his mother and who used his fingers for brushes.”I spent an hour in front of these masterpieces” watching the visitors. There was no-one who did not laugh to tears. “Happy Rousseau !”
This would be quite embarrassing to a 41-year-old man, and also to his wife and children. I have often wondered what psychological mechanism Rousseau used to keep painting despite all the criticism he received. It seems like he just determined to work harder and become better. Next year he would enter four paintings in the Salon of the Independents. One would be a beautiful painting entitled A Carnival Evening.
1886, SECOND SALON des INDEPENDANTS (Aug. 20 – Sept. 21) Henri entered 4 paintings: A Carnival Evening; View of Point-du-Jour, Sunset; A Stroke of Lightning on the Left Bank of the Seine; and Sunset.
A CARNIVAL EVENING
Carnival Evening is one of my favorites. The original and imaginative subject matter, his lovely and skillful use and selection of colors, the contrasting light and darkness, and his careful attention to detail all combine to make it a masterpiece. Of course, his painting was publicly criticised. Camille Pissarro was a respected artist and also a father figure to many of the younger artists. Pissarro was one of the few who recognized and spoke well of the quality and rich tones and skillful use of colors in Rousseau’s painting.
A Carnival Evening was one of Rousseau’s paintings which seemingly disappeared until about 1933. It had been in the possession of an elderly nurse. The painting is now being carefully preserved at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
VIEW OF POINT-DU-JOUR, SUNSET – VIADUCT OF AUTEUIL (I apologize for the quality of the picture. I believe the only available picture of the painting is from Yann Le Pichon’s book, The World of Henri Rousseau. It was at that time in the “Collection P. Rival, Vidauban .” Also, the painting seems to have been rather large; and this small image taken from the book does not accurately show the detail in Rousseau’s artwork.)
The critics, as usual, disparaged his painting. One critic writing in Le Soleil suggested that such attempts at art by the inexperienced Rousseau would be better off kept in cardboard boxes someplace until his work had improved. Personally, I think it is quite evident that Rousseau had progressed much since his first paintings. It is well-developed and obviously not the work of an amateur. Yann Le Pichon believes that View of Point-du-Jour, Sunset “is probably one of the finest and most representative” of Rousseau’s landscapes.
1887 THIRD SALON of the INDEPENDENTS (March 25 – May 3)
Henri submitted 3 paintings: View of Quai d’Orsay (Autumn), A Poor Devil, and View of an Avenue in the Tuileries (Spring). The View of Quai d’Orsay, I presume, was painted in the Autumn after the second salon, and probably a good part of it was done when he was at his job. Quite possibly, View of an Avenue in the Tuileries was painted just before the third salon in the Spring. This time the reviews were not all negative. A few journalists were actually a little complimentary of Henri’s paintings, making note of his “sincerity” and originality.
Many of Henri Rousseau’s paintings are missing. This is not too surprising when we consider a couple factors:
(1) Henri’s work was not appreciated in his early years. (Years later, Picasso bought Portrait of a Woman for only 5 francs.)
(2) Two wars were fought on French soil: World War I and World War II. Many paintings were destroyed or stolen. (For example, during the Franco-Prussian War, over 1,400 of Camille Pissarro‘s paintings had been ruined. The Prussian soldiers had even placed his paintings in the mud as mats to keep their boots clean.)
Please remember that at this time Rousseau was still working full-time at the Paris Customs Office. They were still living in the apartment at 135 Rue de Sevres. I assume that his wife, Clemence, was probably in failing health with tuberculosis. He had at least 2 children at home: Julia, age 10, and little Henri, almost age 8. Young Julia probably would have had to do much of the work since her mother was sick and her father was spending a lot of time painting.
1888 FOURTH SALON of the INDEPENDENTS (March 22 – May 3)
Rousseau brought 5 paintings and 5 drawings [Le Pichon, p.253] including View of Ile Saint- Louis from the Port of Saint Nicolas (Evening).
Vincent van Gogh had moved to Paris in 1886 and entered 3 paintings in the 1888 Salon of the Independents. Also this salon marked the beginning of “cloisonnism.”
The salon ended on May 3, 1888. On May 7, at 4:00 PM, his wife died of Tuberculosis.
NEXT: Adieu, Mon Cher Amour. GO TO PART 11
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
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