Mediocre toll collector or self-thought genius? Rousseau is a great example of how supposedly average man can reach the stars with the power of imagination. For almost half a century he has led a quite ordinary life as a government employee, a man of the family and very Parisian citizen. Suddenly he started painting in his early forties and by the age of 49, retired from his taxman job to work on art full-time.
Rousseau was a man of contradictions. Although he produced more than twenty-five exotic, colourful jungle paintings in his career, he never set foot outside France. His works in naive or primitive style have been ridiculed by critics and the public, but at the same time praised by great avant-garde artists – Robert Delaunay, Paul Signac, Guillaume Apollinaire and beyond all Pablo Picasso.
In 1900, Pablo discovered one of Rousseau’s paintings in a Paris junk shop. Actually, he saved it from destruction as it was offered as a canvas to be painted over. Spaniard got fascinated to the degree he found the author and went to meet him. Eight years later, Picasso threw a banquet in honour of the self-thought artist who’s name gained a reputation among the modernist elite.
The artists were right. Pure and unspoiled genius of Le Douanier influenced fauvists, surrealists and other avant-garde artists for many years forward. But above all, we love Rousseau because he remains faithful to a style and a world that are his own. Even if it remains a dream.
We are the two great painters of this era; you are in the Egyptian style, I in the modern style.