Henri Rousseau was born in Laval in France. He attended Laval High School as a day student, and then as a boarder when his father became bankrupt, and his parents had to leave the town when their house was seized. He worked for a solicitor when he left school, but he “attempted a small perjury and sought refuge in the army.” He joined the army in 1863.
Henri Rousseau exaggerated a great deal, for example, he claimed he served in the army in in Mexico and this was where he got inspiration for his jungle paintings – but no evidence from army records suggest he ever left France. He left the army in 1868 and moved to Paris, France and married Clemence Boitard before getting a job as a tax collector on gates of Paris.
He claims he didn’t start painting until 1886 when 42 but evidence shows he was copying paintings in the Louvre at least 2 years earlier. He was totally self-taught. In 1885 Rousseau exhibited his first pictures at the Salon des Refuses, Paris. They had technical problems but had a naïve charm about them.
His ‘paintings Surprised’, Old Junior’s Cart and ‘Scout attacked by a Tiger ‘are amongst is most important works. In 1907, he was commissioned by artist Robert Delaunay’s mother, Berthe, Comtesse de Delaunay, to paint ‘The Snake Charmer’.
In 1908 Picasso presented him with a cardboard medal in his studio at the Bateau Lavoir in Paris. He died a pauper in 1910 and was buried in a pauper’s grave, 7 people attended his funeral. He was reburied in 1912 after Picasso raised the funds for a proper grave and headstone.
Rousseau inspires Younger Children
If you are looking for an artist to inspire younger children, Henri Rousseau is your man. Basing art lessons around his jungle paintings and the drawing of animals will have school children creating wonderful imaginative paintings.