‘Rousseau had no theory of color, but fully understood its possibilities and became an absolute master of its effects.’ – Recollections of Henri Rousseau by Wilhelm Uhde

May 29, 2019 at 11:22 am (Art)

When I was a child, eight years old or thereabouts, my mother took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I recall walking up some steps, arriving in a small room, and finding myself face to face with this:

I stood for a long time, just gazing. I was transfixed. Not only was the image enchanting, but I remember that to my young mind, the painting made perfect sense. Peace, tranquility and beauty – they all dwelt there.

This is how Henri Rousseau describes The Sleeping Gypsy(1897):

“A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, lies with her jar beside her (a vase with drinking water), overcome by fatigue in a deep sleep. A lion chances to pass by, picks up her scent yet does not devour her. There is a moonlight effect, very poetic.”

When I was able to tear my gaze away from this vision, I beheld this, on a nearby wall:

The Dream, 1910

Also enchanting, but not quite in the same way, or to quite the same degree – at least, to my young eyes.

I am currently reading Recollections of Henri Rousseau by Wilhelm Uhde (with an introduction by Nancy Ireson). Uhde, whose dates are 1874 to 1947, was a German art collector particularly interested in modern art. He moved to Paris at the age of 30, becoming an admirer and ultimately a friend of the painter Rousseau. Uhde later observed:

There are people who go through life as though they were special guests on earth; and then there are those whose joy is to give, rather than receive. These latter are few and far between. One of them was Henri Rousseau.

This little book is one in a series published by Getty. Their dimensions are roughly 4 & 1/2 by 6 inches; the thickness varies from one quarter to half an inch. The quality of the  reproductions is stunning. Each one opens with an introduction by a contemporary writer. There follows the writings of those who were the artist’s contemporaries, or nearly so. It is inspired idea, beautifully carried out.

The series, called Lives of the Artists, is available from the Getty Museum Gift Shop, and, in certain cases, from Amazon. Thus far, in addition to the above, I am the happy possessor of these:

Meanwhile, back to Rousseau, here are some more favorites:

Carnival Evening, 1885-86

Self-portrait from Isle Saint Louis, 1890

Tiger in a Tropical storm, 1891

The Football Players, 1908

 

 

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