Henri Rousseau‘s life is firmly planted in the rich history of FRANCE. Let us go back to an earlier time in France: a time of kings, castles, nobles, peasants, and a feudal land system. France, as you know was ruled by the powerful duo of the king and the Roman Catholic Church. The king supported the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope supported the king. Most people lived in the country and small towns. There was no electricity. Homes were lighted by lamps and heated by coal, wood or charcoal. Most men worked as local craftsmen or farmers. Most women worked very hard in the home. They did not have canned goods or refrigeration; so they purchased their bread, meat and groceries daily; or they raised it themselves. Disease and death were common without the sanitation and medicines we have today. The schools were run by the church. And much of their life was centered around the church, and even today you can see many of the historic church buildings all over France.
The time in France from the late 1700s to at least World War I was a very turbulent time politically. It was a time of conflict between the “haute bourgeoisie” (rich merchants, bankers, etc.) and the laboring class; between the royalists (who favored a king) and the Bonapartists and the republicans. After the American Revolution, 1775-1783, many in France wanted a republican (representative) form of government like the United States. There were also many who wanted a separation between the Roman Catholic Church and the state.
The French Revolution was from 1789-1799. It started as an attempt to change things peacefully, but the radicals took control of the movement, and it evolved into the Reign of Terror. (Is it not strange how people who would protest capital punishment could themselves become mass-murderers who would kill over 20,000 people?) Most of those killed were not aristocrats, but rather common (or uncommon) people who dared oppose the slaughter. The story is told that the end came when 16 innocent nuns were guillotined one-by-one, and then the crowd became silent and horrified. And then days later Robespierre himself was guillotined, and the Terror came to an end.
In 1799, Napoleon took over the government, in a coup, and plunged Europe into bloody wars. But Napoleon met his Waterloo in 1815. But perhaps you know the story of Napoleon.
Louis XVIII was made king in 1814. When he died in 1824, Charles X became king. In the 1830 July Revolution, Paris “manned the barricades” and overthrew the autocratic Charles X. And then Louis Philippe became king (1830-1848), but his powers were limited by a parliament. There was the usual talk of revolt and protest. Also, Napoleon’s nephew, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, twice tried but failed to overthrow the government.
The Industrial Revolution was a little slower in coming to France, but it brought the use of steam engines, trainsand factories. The cities gradually grew larger as more people came to find work in the factories. Factory workers, including children, worked long hours in dirty and dangerous environments. Fresh food was difficult to purchase in the cities. Also, diseases spread faster among those living in close quarters in the cities. Perhaps you have read the books by Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist (1838)and A Christmas Carol (1843). Do you remember Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim? These books give a flavor of life during the Industrial Revolution.
Victor Hugo became probably the most famous and beloved of French authors. Later in life he was a national hero. He published his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), in 1831. His very popular novel, Les Miserables, was not published until 1862. But these books help give an understanding of conditions in France during this time.
It was during this time of Louis Philippe that our little Henri Rousseau is born in 1844.
NEXT: Part 3 | His Family and Childhood: GO TO PART 3
1. The Story of a Man determined to be one of the Greatest Painters in France GO TO PART 1
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
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