There’s a lesson to be learned from looking at the art of late 19th-century painter Henri Rousseau now on view at the Musee D’Orsay. (More about the lesson in a moment). Rousseau began making #Art after age 40 and taught himself by hanging out at the Louvre, although you’d never know it by his work, which looks nothing like anything in art history.
In the thick of things
His frequent subject was the jungle, which he painted from a long-ago memory when he visited the thickets of Central America. He used the jungle to tell the story of life’s mystery and our bewilderment. Rousseau pictured jungle foliage in jumbo sizes to convey the sense of being swallowed by the labyrinth of vegetation and the dangers lurking in the bush. Rather than describe the tangle of dense foliage of in primeval forests, he painted each leaf big as trees. This is scary stuff.
Painting that makes you wonder
Consider his “The Sleeping Gypsy,” which poses a slew of questions that can haunt you. A solitary figure lies on a moonlit beach with a lion by its side. But there are no footprints leading to the spot either from man or beast. How did the figure get there? Is the lion really there or did the gypsy dream of the lion. For that matter, is the gypsy really there? With all this uncertainty comes a stillness and a visceral breathlessness about the scene. “The Sleeping Gypsy” is a picture of unease. The setting may not be one that we live in, but the anxiety that arises from the unfamiliar or strange is not uncommon.
And here’s that lesson mentioned earlier. Rousseau took a lot of hits from critics for his work. He was constantly ridiculed. But he stayed true to himself. The year that Rousseau died, he wrote to his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollonaire, about a critic’s negative reaction to his painting “The Dream,” which shows a nude female lying on a couch in a jungle. Rousseau said that while everyone he knew at the exhibit liked it, the critic M. Dupont didn’t understand the work and panned it. Apparently, the critic questioned why there was a sofa in the jungle. Rousseau set out to explain it.
Original art is rare as an antique
He said the woman sleeping on the sofa is dreaming that she was transported into the forest to hear the music of the snake charmer’s instrument. And he added something that every critic and, for that matter, everyone else should already know: “I cannot now change the manner that I have acquired with such stubborn labor.” Artists today don’t generally do that. They don’t stay true to themselves. We live in an age of derivative art, when paintings can be copied out of a book and an artist like Mike Bidlo can say with a straight face, "Everything is mine, except the form." #Android