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Henri Rousseau, French artist Henri Rousseau, created fantastical paintings prior to the

development of the 20th century's fantastic art movement. His unusual ideas and creativity
inspired many future surrealists. In order to understand the development of his personal imagery,
one must examine his personal roots.
Rousseau came from a working class family and lived a modest life. His job as a French
Customs Collector was far from his ideal profession. But it gave him time to embrace his
passion, painting. Rousseau was a self-taught artist, with no formal training or education. His
goal was to paint in a realist manner, yet his paintings, as well as drawings and prints, were
highly personal in their rendering and imagery. Simplified images of humans and animals. As
well as natural scenes painted in flat, bright colors are representative of Rousseau's individual
approach to art making, which some defined as stylized.
In other words, his portrayal of subject matter embodies his imaginative visions that greatly
differed from common depictions of similar content. His method or technique of painting was
also unique, since he applied one layer at a time, creating multiple layers in each artwork. The
careful blending of brushstrokes that resulted in a smooth surface became representative of his
approach to painting. Another quality of his technique was the use of controlled brush strokes
which made each object in the painting appear outlined. What distinguished Rousseau from his
contemporary artists. Was the childlike quality of his imagery, which earned him the description
as a naive or primitive artist. He used books, nature, and live zoo animals as sources of
inspiration. And combined them with his remarkable imagination and creativity.
Rousseau did not follow, nor was he influenced by, any preceding or concurrent art movements.
Rousseau's work was unique and personal, as his reality and imagination collided into one. His
wild, jungle landscapes with exotic animals and isolated, seductive figures are striking in their
vibrant colors and textures. Defined shapes, and unusual juxtapositions. Portrayal of jungle,
animals, and plants became a reoccurring theme in Rousseau's fantastic art, developing into an
important and dominant characteristic of his work.
His images glow from within, exuding a sense of enigma and the supernatural. What is possibly
most interesting about Rousseau's artwork is that he never saw a jungle or traveled outside of
France, demonstrating again the paver of his imagination. Rousseau was highly revered by the
surrealists who regarded him as their forerunner.
Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo.
In Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo, Rousseau portrays a magical jungle filled with imaginary
plants. That appear to gradually travel off the boundary of the painting surface called the picture
frame. Since the artist makes it look as thought the plants continue growing and overlapping
beyond the paintings frame a sense of visual flow is created making us think that the portrayed

environment is endless. Combat between the tiger and the buffalo is depicted in a childlike
manner. Which is created in the flat controlled brush strokes, subtle shadowing and vibrant
colors. The appearance of the animals is simplified to the point of resembling a children's book

The Dream.
Formal aspects similar to those in, Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo, can be seen in Rousseau's
1909 painting, The Dream. In the mysterious supernatural world of this painting, a nude woman
is reclining on a couch surrounded by an elephant, lions, birds and tropical plants. Each shape
has a defined outline and an exaggerated surface that appears to exhibit relief or other
manipulation. This illusion of surface is called texture. Texture can be seen particularly in the
lines of the leaves in the center of the picture plane. The dark protruding divisions serve as leaf
veins eluding to the realistic attributes of a leaf, but also exaggerating them with their shape. The
strange juxtaposition of the nude on a couch with the jungle setting is reflective of Rousseau's
creativity and interest in the fantasy world. The woman's nude body surrounded by exotic
animals and a wild jungle appears erotic and disturbing. As previously mentioned, Rousseau's
imagery is often highly stylized. His use of bright colors and flat shapes with ornate details can
be described as decorative. Because they give a flat ornamental appearance to the artwork.
Observe how the blue flowers next to the reclining nude have subtle shading, but still appear to
be flat. The entire image is reminiscent of a mosaic. Due to bright, distinct patches of color and
shape. The vibrant oranges growing on trees, the red, green, and yellow stripes on the black bird
in the center, and the blue and pink lotuses are all elaborate and festive. The decorative quality of
this artwork is also apparent in the surface of the couch because it lacks depth. Observe how the
couch is represented as a dark two-dimensional form and how the nude figure seems to be about
to slide off of it. The depth of an object is usually depicted with a range of values that create a
sense of three dimensionality, which is absent in this case, resulting in a flat plane. Another
element that is characteristic of Rousseau's style is the frontal depiction of animals, humans and
plants. Even though the nude's face is seen in profile, the rest of her body is painted frontally. His
style remained fairly consistent throughout his life.
Tropical Forest with Monkeys.
In Tropical Forest with Monkeys, Rousseau presents a disturbing and mysterious interpretation
of a jungle scene. While monkeys are jumping, swinging and even fishing, a snake is lurking
behind the white lotuses. This juxtaposition of animals creates a sense of tension and anxiety in
the painting. Rousseau paid a great amount of attention to the portrayal of each animal and plant,
relying on the Parisian Botanical Gardens, the National History Museum, books and a zoo for
research. However, he always altered them to reflect his personal fantastic vision. For instance,
in this painting, the white lotuses are rising out of the water on long stems, while in real life, they

would be floating on the water. This alteration of reality demonstrates Rousseau's imagination.
Abundant utility of repeating designs or patterns is seen in all of Rousseau's portrayals of plants,
fruits, flowers and birds. In this painting the leaves become the main recurring visual element. It
seems that Rousseau selected one shape for leaves slightly altered it, and then covered the entire
picture plane with these simplified leaf formations. The leaves range in size and color, but still
possess a similar form. They spread vertically, horizontally and diagonally, guiding our eyes
around the picture plane. The ornamental appearance of the green leaves in the top half of the
painting look like repetitive stitches or marks used to embellish clothing. This enriching,
decorative technique is the overriding theme or motif in the artist's work. Rousseau's childlike
approach to painting and limitless imagination influenced many asurrealist artists.

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