(b. 1844, Laval, France; d. 1910, Paris, France) French painter. Born into a working class French family in 1844, Rousseau, also known as “Le Douanier,” became one of the most celebrated of the “naïve” artists. A self-taught artist, he retired early from his job in the Paris Customs Office to dedicate himself entirely to art. Although he aspired to be like the traditional academic painters, Rousseau had no formal training, and was impoverished for the majority of his life. His fresh, direct and fantastical paintings were a predecessor to the artistic style that would evolve into Surrealism. From 1886-1910 Rousseau exhibited at the Salon das Independants in Paris, and here he was exposed to such contemporaries as Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Pablo Picasso. Rousseau himself was quite naïve and ingenuous and thought his own paintings to be very real and convincing, which was the source of ridicule throughout his career as a painter. In 1908, Picasso held a dinner in Rousseau’s honor, half serious, and half mocking the artist, who didn’t always realize when others were being sarcastic. What Picasso and other contemporaries did admire about Rousseau’s work however, was the innocence and charm of his paintings. He painted suburban scenes, portraits, and around the 1890s, he began to focus on exotic jungle scenes with what he thought was painstaking detail, but what translated into a youthful directness and intense stylization.
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