From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914


Who was Henri Rousseau?

Henri Rousseau (1844–1910) was nicknamed Le Douanier, meaning “the customs officer” because that was his profession. He was an amateur painter who began painting during middle age. Since he was not academically trained, his style was called naïve. He showed his work at the Paris Salon des Independents, and caught the eye of influential artists who helped him to develop his artistic career. By 1858, he was able to devote himself to art full time. His imaginative, detailed paintings were inspired by nineteenth-century symbolism and psychology and often feature exotic settings and primal themes. One of his greatest works is The Dream (1910), which depicts a nude woman reclining on a sofa—a traditional art historical subject—who has been strangely transported into a jungle. Wild fruit hangs from trees and exotic animals lurk in the brush while a dark figure plays a flute-like instrument. Due to the complex symbolism of the painting, Rousseau wrote an accompanying poem in an attempt to at least partially explain the work. The most common interpretation of The Dream is that it represents a woman sleeping on her couch in Paris, and as she dreams, her mind is transported to the jungle. Therefore, the dreamer has been merged with the dream, and the unexpected combination of elements, rendered with detailed realism, foreshadows surrealism.


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