Art and myth lock their cages and permit delicate and savage voices in at their will. They have fed and exchanged with each other since the first drawings were scratched on a cave in fire embers for us to enduringly query if they were dreams of the ancients or chilling witnessed incidents.
Henri Rousseau painted within a set of cold and beautiful realities that sound like a kind of reverie when recalled. Born into poverty, he took up self-taught painting in his forties after working in the Paris customs office. Rousseau, born in France, never left his native land despite the fact the steadfast part he played in art history was one of mythical visual proportion.
As is the gift of creators of invented imagination and language, his images were born in his mind. He absorbed aged botanical drawings, taxidermy animal collections and memorized the tales of his fellow countrymen fighting wars in other lands. He painted breathtaking depictions of jungles of epic magnitude, lush blooming landscapes and unrivaled wild animals. He quite stoically held to the principle that his only teacher was nature itself. His paintings now hang in the most prominent museums and private collections in the world and his style to this day lies quietly in a territory of its own."The picture radiates beauty, that is indisputable. I believe nobody will laugh this year." -Guillaume Apollinaire
In a further mythical ballad, a young Picasso was walking the streets of Paris in 1908 and crossed the path of a canvas being sold as junk material. The painting was an early Rousseau which he immediately recognized as brilliant. He tracked down the isolated and aging painter and proceeded to hold one of the most storied celebrations of art in his honor, Le Banquet Rousseau.
In Picasso’s ragged studio, he invited the young and poor artists of his circle which now reads like a guest list of legends of the avant garde, complete with poet Gertrude Stein, one of their primary benefactors. The thirty gathered souls feasted on simplicities and of course immense amounts of wine. They set out rows of benches and propped up one of Rousseau’s great works as the heart of the room. The sixty-four year old master was led into the affair by famed French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Rousseau wore a simple black beret and brought only his violin. One can scarcely imagine the expression that must have lept from his blue eyes when faced with the young artists who revered him. They sang songs and recited poems in his honor and celebrated into the late hours of the night in close quarters with air filled with perfume of the rare.
Words by Brit Parks
Henri Rousseau, Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Henri Rousseau, Scout Attacked by a Tiger, 1904
Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910
Henri Rousseau, The Snake Charmer, 1907
Henri Rousseau, Apes in the Orange Grove, 1910
Picasso in his studio in the country house Notre Dame de Vie with the portraits of the Rousseaus 1965, Photograph by André Gomés