French ‘Post-Impressionist’ ‘Naive’ or ‘Primitive’ artist Henri Julien Félix Rousseau or Henri Rousseau was born to a plumber in Laval, in 1844. He showed great interest in music and drawing as a child and won many prizes in school too. Initially, he worked as a lawyer, enrolling later into the army during 1863-1867. Henri Rousseau moved to Paris in the year 1868 to look after and support his mother, as his father died untimely. He worked as a Government employee and rose to the post of a tax collector in the year 1871. Though, Henri Rousseau had a passion for painting, he took it up seriously only in his early forties. At the age of 49, he took up art as a profession and retired from his job. He was a self-taught genius painter, whose skillful, imaginative, and talented work still shines through his paintings, including “The Sleeping Gypsy,” and is lauded by the world, until date.
Rousseau was a great painter and his most famous paintings, including “The Sleeping Gypsy,” depict jungle scenes. Interestingly enough, the artist had never encountered anything ‘wild’ in his life. During army service, he had met soldiers and had heard stories about the subtropical countries and the animals there. This gave him enough food for his thoughts. Henri Rousseau paintings seemed flat and childish to many people who could not understand his talent, creating many critics, who ridiculed his work endlessly. Several established artists too did not like Henri’s unique style of work and considered it ‘untutored.’ Undeterred, the artist stuck to his naive and childish painting style, full of flat figures, free imagination, and ‘Realism.’ He started exhibiting his work and the number of his ardent followers, especially ‘the would be’ ‘Cubists,’ increased.
Rousseau’s most famous painting, “The Sleeping Gypsy (La Bohemienne endormie),” an oil on canvass work, created in 1897, fetched him a lot of international fame. In this Landscape Painting with ‘Impressionist’ touch, the painter portrayed a wandering woman (a Negress) music artist in deep sleep, in a moonlit bare desert, with a composed lion musing over her. It seems that the lions gaze is transfixed over the sleeping woman, dressed in Oriental costume. A mandolin player and a water jug, the only obvious possessions of the woman, are shown kept next to her.
The subject and the objects in “The Sleeping Gypsy” are sharply contoured with balanced rhythmic lines and curves. The lion’s man and the pattern on the gypsy’s dress have been done with meticulous precision. Crystalline hues grace the painting, imparting a perfect lighting effect. Measuring 51″ x 6′ 7″, “The Sleeping Gypsy” is an icon in the ‘Modern Art’ forms. This painting has inspired the field of music and poetry as well. Many artists created a replica of the painting, as tribute to Henri Rousseau, replacing the lion with some other animal.
Henri Rousseau exhibited “The Sleeping Gypsy” at the thirteenth ‘Salon des Indépendants’ and tried selling it to the mayor of Laval, but in vain. It finally got entry into the private collection of a Parisian merchant and was there until 1924. Simon Guggenheim bought it and gave it to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States, where it is presently displayed, in the year 1939. Henri Rousseau moved to a studio in Montparnasse in the year 1893 and worked there until 1910, the year of his death.