Henri Russo (1844-1910) Automatic translate
Like many geniuses who were ahead of their era, Henri Rousseau did not know during his life, neither fame nor wealth. A talented artist, who worked until the age of 41 as an ordinary clerk in the Paris customs department, found the willpower to give up his usual way of life and devote himself completely to painting. The only thing that supported Rousseau in his hobby was an unshakable faith in his own talent, which allowed him to become one of the greatest masters of his era. Surprisingly, the desire to imitate the techniques of the past transferred the artist directly to the future - his creative manner will become very characteristic of many masters of the XX century. Russo’s “naive” art, keeping pace with impressionism, soon separated into a completely different school. The original style of the painter, replete with elements of phantasmagoria, was admired by Pablo Picasso and Robert Delaunay, giving Rousseau himself only minimal means of subsistence during his life.
Starting his career as an artist at the age of forty-one, Henri Russo was self-taught. Arriving from the provinces in Paris and settled in as a petty official, Rousseau painted everywhere: while on duty at work, taking advantage of the favor of his superiors, and at night at home. Poor, but patient, modest, but confident in his genius, he became one of the leading and most recognized masters of the artistic avant-garde, which was admired by progressive contemporaries and generations of descendants.
Once Rousseau himself wrote an autobiographical note for the book “Portraits of the Next Century” - “Born in Laval in 1844 in a family with desperate modest incomes, he was forced to devote himself to the wrong profession, which attracted him to his love of art.” True, the book never came out.
The father of a self-taught artist was Julien Russo - a hereditary tinsmith from a town in the west of France - Laval. And his mother is the daughter of an officer of the Great Army of Napoleon. Henri’s father desperately wanted to get rich, therefore, having bought a house on the outskirts of the city, he leaves his craft as a tinsmith and tries to establish a business of reselling various goods. But, alas, his work is burned out, and since then hopeless poverty has settled in the house of Russo.
Fortunately, despite the extreme need, the family of the future artist was able to send her only son to study first at school, and then at the Lyceum. Henri was an average student, although he managed to get a number of school awards, distinguishing himself in singing and arithmetic. These seemingly insignificant achievements are everywhere noted in his biography not because Rousseau became world famous artists, but because he also wrote an amazing waltz named after his first wife - “Clemence”.
After training, Henry takes a job at the law office, where he makes a big mistake. At the age of nineteen, instigated by his friends, Rousseau steals a tiny amount of money from the accounting department, but this is enough to put an end to his lawyer’s career and get under investigation. In court, Henry has to agree to a deal - as many as seven years of military service, for only one year in prison.
The Russo Regiment, stationed in France, will never take part in hostilities abroad. Even when Napoleon III sends the French military corps to Mexico in order to support his protege Maximilian in the struggle for the imperial throne, the future avant-garde does not take part in the expedition. Although, much later, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 - 1918) writes a poem about Rousseau’s stay in the colorful Aztec Country, the artist never tries to refute it, as well as a number of other myths about his life.
In 1868, the father of Rousseau dies, and Henry, as the sole breadwinner of the family, receives dismissal from the army. Having left his regiment, which was then located in Paris, he plunges headlong into the busy life of the big city. First of all, the young man finds work and takes off his life, located not far from Le Bon Marche, the first multi-storey shopping center in the French capital.
The young man immediately falls in love with the daughter of the mistress of the house, Madame Buatar. In 1869, he takes Clemence Buatar as a wife. Despite the constant weakness (Clemence was ill with tuberculosis), the spouse helps Henri to earn money for life, tirelessly doing sewing on order. On weekends, lovers often walk in beautiful Parisian parks. True, the happiness of Henri and Clemence is overshadowed by the fact that their children die one after another right in infancy.
Of the seven children of loving spouses, only two survive - the daughter of Julie-Clemence and the son of Henri-Anatole. Russo’s wife, constantly tormented by tuberculosis, was too weak to take care of the children herself, so from birth they were brought up by a nanny who lived in a Paris suburb. In 1888, Clemence dies. Henri Russo will never forget his beloved wife. Even during her lifetime, he would devote to her a waltz of his own composition, and after her death he will again and again create her portraits.
Petty official living art
Back in 1871, the young Russo got a permanent job at the customs of the Excise Department, which in the 19th century collected taxes from goods imported to Paris. Inspection of goods at the city gates is a boring and monotonous occupation, but it does not limit the inner freedom of the person performing it.
During one of the next shifts, a small clerk sets up an easel right in the courtyard of the department building, and begins to draw. Unfortunately, the paintings painted by Russo until 1877 did not survive. The exception is only one, depicting a battle scene against the backdrop of the local landscape.
Soon, the then-famous artist Felix Clement (1826 - 1888), who helped the young Russo with advice, introduces the aspiring painter to one of the representatives of the official French art of that era, Baron Leon Jerome. After that, Rousseau rented his first workshop and in 1885, supported by the baron, first exhibited two of his works in the Salon of the Les Miserables.
A year later, in 1886, the artist Paul Signac (1863 - 1935), interested in the work of Henri Russo, invites him to participate in a new exhibition. Signac considered that the best place for the works of such an original painter was in the Salon of Independent Artists, created by representatives of the avant-garde art. The fact is that all early attempts to create independent salons ended in failure - as if by magic, they began to resemble the official Salon, which did not suit progressive painters who felt an increasing need to be exhibited separately.
For Rousseau, it was obvious that the official art circles represented by the Salon, with its old academic tradition, would have forever rejected self-taught, at least from the principle. Therefore, from that time until the very end, Henri Russo will remain faithful to the new "salon without a jury."
Already in 1886, having exhibited four of his works in an independent salon, the aspiring artist will be highly appreciated by such famous painters as Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903) and Puvi de Chavannes (1824 - 1898), who were delighted with the ability of Rousseau to convey dramatic moments with the help of many shades of black. But, in general, his works remain incomprehensible to the public, even more so - they are ridiculed - academics claimed that even a child is able to draw like that.
Fortunately, Rousseau was very resistant to sarcasm and criticism of the public. He even concludes an agreement with Argus, according to which all journal articles and newspaper clippings were sent to him, which contained reviews and comments on his work. In anticipation of universal recognition of his indisputable talent, the artist pedantically pasted them into a notebook, which eventually became thicker. It is from the newspapers that Russo once learns that the City Hall of Paris awarded him a medal. Happy, he immediately orders to mention the award on his business card, but later it turns out that he was in a hurry: it was about another artist with the same name.
Concerned after the death of his wife finding funds for the normal maintenance of children and buying paints, Rousseau, in the hope of earning money and being impressed by the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, at which France presented her famous Eiffel Tower, the artist again turns to music and writes the libretto for vaudeville. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring a penny.
After retiring from service in 1893, after years of service, Rousseau receives a meager pension and can only dream about the time when his favorite pastime - painting, will finally begin to bring decent income. In the meantime, Russo is forced to give violin lessons and draw paintings to order, selling them at ridiculous prices. Although, just a year later, his work “The War”, exhibited at the Salon of Independents, gets a wide response, in particular, the writer Alfred Jary (1873 - 1907) admires her, with whose light, the artist Henri Russo receives the nickname “Customs officer” (Le Douanier), fixed to him for life.
Soon, the entire Russo family moves, who is where. In 1895, the artist’s daughter leaves with her husband in Angers, located in the west of France, and the painter moves with his son Henri-Anatole to live in Montparnasse - the famous area on the left bank of the Seine, which later became a favorite meeting place for the artistic and intellectual avant-garde. There, on Montparnasse, Rousseau meets Josephine Le Tensorer - a woman who lived in the neighborhood who won the heart of the artist. For a long time, Josephine neglected the painter’s love confessions and agreed to become his wife only after the untimely death of Henri Anatole.
As a freedom-loving freemason, Henri Russo still married in the church with his new love in 1898. The financial situation of the family was rather deplorable, therefore, to help her husband, Josephine tried to sell his work in her office supply store, and the artist, in turn, continued to give paid lessons. Nevertheless, on Sundays, Rousseau, in spite of his need, in the framework of the Philotechnical Society, whose main goal was to educate the masses, taught everyone who wanted to paint in watercolor, pastel, and also, with pride and pleasure, shared his experience in painting porcelain and ceramics.
Just five years later, in 1903, the painter becomes a widower for the second time, and, trying to cope with grief, he completely devotes himself to work. I must say, his career as an artist, finally began to rapidly gain momentum. In 1903, he again participated in two art salons - Independent Artists (in March) and in the first Autumn Salon, which opened in October. But the painter is still in dire need. Fortunately, the modest but generous Papuan family, who lived in the neighborhood, often invited him to their dinner, and friend Marie Bisch, who is engaged in small-scale trade, more than once helps Russo in critical financial situations.
The turning point occurs only in 1906, when the artist meets Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941) and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. New friends openly admire the talent of the painter, and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), having accidentally acquired the Portrait of a Woman by Bris Henri Russo in 1908, organizes a magnificent banquet in honor of the author.
One of Picasso’s friends, Fernanda Olivier, describes Rousseau: “This respectable, slightly stooped man who is more likely to jog than walk, his hair is gray but thick, despite his age, has the habits of a small rentier, and his face is slightly scared, but kind. He blushed easily when he was embarrassed or when someone objected to him. He assented to everything that was told to him, but it was felt that he kept himself aloof and simply did not dare to express his thoughts. ”
Among Rousseau’s friends was Alfred Jary (1873 - 1907), the artist met him at the time when the last work - “King Ubu” (1896), which made him the famous founder of the theater of the absurd, was not yet written. Perhaps it is precisely the passion for shocking and provocation that brings Rousseau and Jary together. According to the young writer, the naive art of the Customs officer, frank and uncompromising, shocking the average man. Once, Zhari ordered the painter his portrait. The picture, unfortunately, has not reached our days, but it is known that Russo portrayed his friend with a chameleon and an owl. Fry was delighted! He pays Rousseau money from the parental inheritance and everywhere extols his talent. The artist cherished this friendship. It was he who extended a helping hand and sheltered the young eccentric when luck changed him in 1897, and Zhary, penniless in his pocket, ended up on the street.
Henri Rousseau had a clear, childish voice, everyone considered him naive and simple, but was it really so? Unshakable confidence in his own genius allowed the painter to become a purposeful person with extraordinary stamina, and almost childish naivety - a very original artist.
In December 1907, Rousseau, due to his carelessness and gullibility, again went to prison for fraud, although, in fact, he was his victim. In order to get freedom, if only to give charitable lessons on Sundays, the artist writes a petition to the Court: “Turning to your kindness, I ask at least for conditional release in order to be able to continue working. I beg you not to destroy my career, for which I worked so hard. ” Fortunately, Rousseau’s request was granted after the Christmas holidays.
According to contemporaries, Rousseau usually worked in a simple linen white shirt, but always puts on a suit when he organized receptions in his workshop. The German collector Wilhelm Ugde, the first to dedicate an entire book to the artist in 1911, was one of the regulars at the Customs Officer parties. Here is how he described the street where Rousseau’s house was located: “It is only a few steps long and then rests against a stone wall. It seems that we are somewhere in the province and not in Paris. In the rooms on the ground floor the owner lives with his family, and above are the apartments of the guests. On one of the doors there is a sign - “Lessons from rhetoric, music, drawing, solfeggio”. We call and enter: Russo meets us. ”
Almost every Saturday evening, among his paintings and friends, the Customs officer plays the violin for artists, collectors and just art lovers. He is in love again, but Leonia, a widow of 59 years old, refuses to become his wife. At these evenings one could often meet the owner of the house where Rousseau lived - Mr. Keval, a quiet respectable man who was Russo’s colleague for work in the customs department of Paris. Among the guests it was often possible to see Ambroise Vollard, who bought paintings by the artist and invited him with him more than once to artistic parties. Henri Rousseau was on an emotional upsurge: finally it was time to taste the fruits of many years of hard work - a stable financial situation, universal recognition. That’s just health… The painter has long been troubled by unhealed wounds on his legs, which, in the end, caused gangrene.
A brilliant artist, Henri Russo died on September 2, 1910 at the Necker Municipal Hospital in Paris. He was buried in a common grave. Robert Delaunay, Ambroise Vollard and Paul Signac came to see the artist on their last journey.
A year later, Delaunay organizes at his own expense a reburial of the remains of the artist. And Guillaume Apollinaire will write on his tombstone an epitaph composed by him: “Farewell to you, our good friend Russo! Hear us - Delaunay with his wife, Keval and me. We’ll bring you brushes, paints, and canvas as a present, so that you paint portraits of stars at your holy leisure. ”
Peering into the first paintings of Henri Russo, one of the critics will exclaim: "He is sincere and naive, somewhat reminiscent of the primitives." The second critic agrees: "This painting is rather dry and tough, but very interesting, because its naivety leads to the idea of Italian primitivists." Even mockers and ardent opponents of Rousseau’s original work recognized the master as an outstanding primitivist.
Although the canvases are “Walking through the Forest” and “Meeting in the Forest”, the painter is still closer to the national painting of the 18th-century Rococo era than to the Italian primitives. This is largely due to the clearly visible traditional motif of gallant scenes (fetes galantes), very characteristic of the French artist Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721), whose paintings were exhibited in the Louvre. By the way, it was their reproductions that adorned the walls of the Russo workshop.
The works of the early period in Rousseau very much distinguished him from his contemporaries - the Impressionists. This can be clearly seen in the sophisticated color scheme of the paintings “Meeting in the Forest” and “Walk in the Forest”, in which the painter depicts real and imaginary trees using a large number of different shades of brown and green.
In the first picture, the forest is dense and impassable, in the second - light and transparent. All long-range plans are made by vague, small strokes, which facilitates visual perception, neutralizing a too saturated dark forest.The sky, occupying a third of the picture, deliberately reduced trees in the distance - all this speaks of the artist’s attempt - self-taught to somehow determine the boundaries of space, give it depth, that is, to show the prospect that for Rousseau, deprived of academic knowledge and skills, was a real stumbling block. Perhaps that is why, later he deliberately abandoned any prospect in his canvases.
The painting “Meeting in the Forest” depicts lovers riding on horseback and looking at each other. They are dressed in typical costumes of the 18th century. The woman’s long hair is freely loose over her shoulders - a motif that is present in many female images of Rousseau’s brush. The strength of feelings, mutual hugs, tenderness in the man’s look create a clear effect of the presence of this couple on the canvas, despite the fact that their bodies are practically invisible behind the lush vegetation. Loving only in their own world, they appeared for a short time from behind the forest, and it seemed that they were about to disappear from sight forever again.
On the canvas “Walking through the Forest” we see a woman very much like Clemence, she seemed to freeze — perhaps she was frightened by the rushing echoes of the cavalcade, the alarming rustle of leaves or the sudden crunch of a branch.
Female images, as well as images of animals, occupied a huge place in the artist’s work. Two large female portraits, painted by Rousseau with a small gap, are very similar compositions. Both depict women in black standing full-length. The format of the works and the poses of the characters allow attributing the paintings to the genre of parade portraits. Perhaps both of them were made to order, although the identity of the models remained unknown.
The first canvas - “Portrait of a Woman” (alternative name “Portrait of Mrs. M.”) was created around 1895. It was this painting that was acquired at a very modest price in 1908 by another brilliant artist - Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who was very enthusiastic about it. This work is also known as Jadwiga, although there is no evidence that the model name matches.
There is a legend according to which the girl on the canvas was a beautiful Polish woman who charmed the painter. And although this version has no evidence, the fact remains: Rousseau liked this name. He himself called them the main character of the play of his own composition - “Revenge of the Russian Orphan”. Perhaps it was she who embodied for the artist a certain image of the ideal woman. By the same name, the master will call the heroine of his other canvas - “Dream” (1910).
The composition of the first portrait resembles a staged photograph from a shop at that time. A female figure stands on a balcony full of flower vases against a massive curtain, surrounded by a fantastic landscape. In the hands of Jadwiga is a tree branch. This detail is of particular interest in that it is a traditional symbol of death. This can be explained, if you believe the supporters of the theory of the real existence of this woman, who claim that at the time of writing the canvas Jadwiga was already dead. This assumption is indirectly confirmed by the fact that the artist chose the black color for the woman’s dress, which always emphasized the special dramatic nature of the depicted scene.
The woman in the second portrait is depicted amidst an exciting variety of greenery. Her hand rests on her thigh, and her legs peeking out from under her dress barely touch the ground, which creates the illusion of movement. At the bottom of the canvas we see a kitten playing with a ball of thread, bringing liveliness and spontaneity to the official tone of the portrait.
Russo finishes his famous work “The Sleeping Gypsy”, also dedicated to the female image, just a month after the death of his only son, Henri Anatole.
In 1897, he exhibited the work at the Salon of Independents, accompanying it with a legend written on the frame: "A predator, overwhelmed by a thirst for blood, freezes in place, not daring to attack a soundly sleepy victim." The figure of the gypsy with her scarf and colorful clothes, sharply contrasting with the dark complexion, reminds a bit of oriental women from paintings by academic artists. It was this work that Russo actively proposed to acquire the measures of his hometown of Laval, in memory of himself.
The artist even wrote to the mayor of the city: "Everything is bathed in moonlight here." Of course, the city hall rejected his offer. The work disappears and is rediscovered only in 1923 and, since not all Rousseau’s paintings were widely known, causes a lot of controversy and rumors. Quite a few consider it a fake, a joke, which was attributed to another artist - Derain. Those who did not doubt the true authorship of the painting, considered it as a very decisive step by the painter from realism to surrealism.
Soon, Rousseau departed from the Impressionists, although he still shared their dislike of the traditional canons of fine art. Impressionism implied the creative freedom that was so necessary for Rousseau. His art, based on a completely flat interpretation of all forms, not only does not take into account the standard rules of depicting perspectives adopted in the Renaissance, but also consciously neglects them. The artist simplifies the form, creating his own unique style of painting. The real proportions are distorted here, the color elaboration of the volume is absent, and the shadow does not exist at all. Rousseau did not want to portray boring and mundane reality, passing through his rich imagination all images and forms.
The artist’s art strongly resembles decorative painted pictures with multi-colored figures of smooth texture and unpretentious shape. His painting "The Child with the Puppet" makes a strange impression that makes one shudder. The master first delineates the contours of the figure of a child resembling a porcelain doll, leaving it itself unwritten, then works on the background of the picture and returns to the figure again. Rousseau, like Emil Bernard (1868 - 1941) and Paul Gauguin, completely ignores the principles of classical perspective. In addition, the painter gives a clear preference to substantive conventions, rather than boring specifics.
Brushes Russo own many children’s portraits. It is not known why the theme of children was so important for the artist, if they were custom-made works, if the artist felt the loss of his six children. The exact answer to this question is unknown, we can only assume that, portraying children, the painter tried with the help of paints, brushes and imagination to bring back to life the images of his loved ones. Many of Rousseau’s portraits of children are in large format.
For example, a child in a red dress looks so large that it feels as if his figure hardly fits on the canvas. Apparently, the child is sitting: legs bent at the knees and almost hidden in the grass speak about this. The figure itself seemed to hover between heaven and earth, which imperceptibly smoothes the feeling of excessive massiveness. Like “The Child with the Puppet,” the kid in this picture also holds a strange doll in his hand, resembling an adult with facial features.
In another picture of the same period - “Peasant Wedding”, we see a bride who looks at us with humble reverence. The figures of the people around her are so flat that they seem to be separately cut out of colored paper and glued to the background landscape. Even in spite of the trees carefully arranged by the letter “V” and some awkward dog located in the foreground, which theoretically should have been a compositional designation of the perspective, they could not erase the collage impression made by this painting.
The bride’s figure is the undisputed dominant of the picture, it is she who, with her snow-white belt, seems to connect the remaining characters into a single group. On the canvas, the artist symbolically indicated the continuity of generations, with the help of a long veil of the bride, slightly covering the elderly woman sitting nearby, who is obviously the grandmother of the bride or groom. The figure of an old man sitting separately from the group of main characters, whose legs are hidden in the grass, conjures up thoughts about the connection between modernity and eternity, life and death, earth and sky. The solemnity with which the whole group is located under the trees again reminds of a 19th century shop. It was in such static poses that people froze in front of a photo lens against the background of painted flat scenery: “We don’t move! Do not breathe! ". It’s possible that while working on the “Wedding”,the painter drew inspiration from some photograph, but nothing is known about the reasons for his appeal to this topic, as well as about the personalities of the prototypes of the characters. Although the man standing to the right of the bride remotely resembles the artist himself.
In 1906, Henri Rousseau presented to the public his new work - “Freedom, calling for painters to participate in the 22nd exhibition of Independent Artists”, which, even being in the exhibition of the Salon of Independents, causes visitors to laugh only. Only a close circle of friends admires the new work of the artist, while the rest can not understand either the design itself or the ways of its implementation.
Friend of the painter - Robber Delaunay exclaims: “In another era, he would have painted the walls of the palaces by order of patrons. In ours, he is forced to be a jester for the inhabitants, he is so serious, so calm. What a senseless irony of fate! ” Russo celebrates the Salon with his new work, which made him a full-fledged artist, in every sense of the word. The compositional center of work is the allegorical figure of Liberty, depicted in a manner reminiscent of the academic. She plays the trumpet, traditionally a symbol of worship.
A year later, Rousseau again amuses the audience in the Salon of Independents with his work “Foreign representatives arrived under the banner of peace to salute the Republic”. On the canvas, we recognize the six presidents of the French Republic (dressed in black) standing on the podium, the Russian emperor (in a yellow and blue uniform), the king of England (on the left side), and also on the right: Franz Joseph from Austria, Peter I from Serbia, William II from Germany, Leopold II from Belgium, George I from Greece, the Persian Shah and King of Ethiopia. The republic, in red robes and a Phrygian cap (the headdress of the era of the French Revolution of 1789) triumphantly rises above all, holding an olive branch in outstretched hand. This multicolored extravaganza, colored by foreign flags, passes under the slogan written on three black pedestals standing in the foreground of the canvas: “Work,freedom, equality. ” And in the background we see people gathering in a circle to start their holiday dance.
The artist was very fond of allegories, so popular among representatives of political circles. Repeatedly Rousseau took part in various competitions, which from time to time are arranged by the Paris authorities in order to decorate the premises of various departments. The painter always wanted to receive an official order, well paid and prestigious, because, firstly, he constantly felt the need for money, and, secondly, he still dreamed of universal recognition.
However, the Customs Officer has failed to conquer either one or the other. In addition, all the time there were people who used this artist’s weakness and his inherent naivety to repeatedly play poor Rousseau. It even came to the point that the painter almost went to the Champs Elysees to personally thank the President of the French Republic for awarding him with his main state award - the Order of the Legion of Honor, the award of which was announced to the artist by evil jokers.
Once, the mother of the artist Robert Delaunay, succumbing to the entreaties of her son, decided to order a Russo painting. Her stories about an exotic trip to India inspired the Customs Officer to create a canvas designed in rich green tones typical of the tropical jungle. In the center of the picture we see the figure of a black-haired woman - a snake charmer, who is very reminiscent of an ancient mystical deity. Black snakes, as if mesmerized by the magical sounds of her pipes, slowly creep out from everywhere, and if at first glance they are barely distinguishable, then when the look gets used to a variegated variety and begins to distinguish details, you see them more and more. Amazingly, their movement on the canvas is felt almost physically. The eyes of the female figure, which are the only bright spot in the picture, add a mystical shade to the canvas,their tremendous attractive power is striking.
A river illuminated by a full moon, a thick and mysterious veil of plants shimmering in all shades of green, an exotic pink bird, brightly shining yellow flowers - the whole scene exudes incredible paradise and tranquility. The vertical lines of the figure and the plants surrounding it are softened by horizontal rays of light coming from the month. This fundamentally distinguishes the composition of “The Enchantress” of Rousseau from his “War”, where the horizontal construction of the entire canvas creates the effect of decay and symbolizes destruction and destruction.
Unpleasant Surprise is somewhat close to Snake Charmer. In this picture we see a woman scared by a bear. The figure of the woman again resembles the mythical goddess, or Old Testament Eve, lost in the Garden of Eden. Her round hips are slightly covered by hair falling down to her knees. As in The Caster, the woman is surrounded by the same bizarre trees with bright foliage, and in the background - on the shores of a magical lake, depicting dense forests of bizarre trees. And in the depths, the figure of a lurking hunter is hardly noticeable. When you see her, the soul becomes calm - he will certainly shoot and save the woman from the predator.
Contemporaries will write down a statement by an Italian critic dedicated to Rousseau: “He lives in a strange world, fantastic and real at the same time, close and far, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic. He loves a riot of colors, fruits and flowers, wild animals and fabulous birds. He lives, working unconscious, focused and patient, met with ridicule and unfriendly shouts every time he decides to break his loneliness in order to present his creation to the world. ”
The hero of the picture “Chaise of Father Juniet” (1908) is a real character - a seller of vegetables, a former friend of Rousseau (though his real name was Claude Junier). His shop on Montparnasse was located just a few meters from the painter’s workshop. Junier always helped an artist who often lacks money for products. Sometimes Junier, along with his friends, took Rousseau to ride on his chaise, which served him for the transport of goods. Juniera’s pet - a mare Rosa pulled a chaise. The seller of vegetables had a great weakness for horses and dogs, one of which is shown in the picture next to the chaise.
When creating the canvas, the artist used a photograph taken in Klamar in 1908. Rousseau transferred the composition of the photograph to the canvas, adding to it a dog on the road and several figures. While the painter was working on the painting, his workshop was visited by the American artist Max Weber (1881-1961). Considering the work, Weber drew the author’s attention to the imbalance in size between dogs and other objects and characters. Rousseau replied: "Everything must remain as it is."
Perhaps the artist is right, relying only on his own vision, because when you look at this work for a long time, it starts to seem that it is this absolutely disproportionate, and therefore some mysterious dog that gives the picture a touch of fabulousness. It is the altered proportions and disturbed perspective, abundantly supplemented by elements of phantasmagoria, that give Rousseau’s everyday scenes this element of attractiveness and mystery.
Five people and a dog are sitting in a chaise. All of them are depicted facing the viewer, as if lined up in a line, like a group from the canvas "Peasant Wedding", but at a clear angle with respect to the seats of the chaise and the direction of the road. The canvas has an impressive size, very characteristic of works of decorative art, and this, according to critics, makes it similar to the "tapestries of a thousand flowers" - magnificent carpets popular in the 15th century on which colorful ornaments were woven from fancy plants.
For the first time, the artist uses an absolutely smooth canvas in the painting, thanks to which the strokes are almost invisible. The whole color of the picture is clearly divided into two scales: black, white and red in the foreground, and ocher, green and blue - on the "backdrop".
Less well-known but no less significant part of Rousseau’s creative heritage is urban landscapes. Numerous types of Paris and its suburbs were in high commercial demand, therefore, the artist, constantly constrained by the means, had to write them tirelessly. In those distant times, the outskirts of Paris were still little built up and literally buried in the pristine greenery of forests. The artist did sketches for future paintings immediately with oil paints, without using gouache or charcoal. He confidently writes from life, directly on canvas, only sketching from time to time.
Prescribing individual fragments in the open air with sweeping sharp movements of the brush, Rousseau completes the picture already in the workshop, carefully finalizing the details of each component. Two of the most famous examples of urban landscape in the work of Rousseau are the canvases “Furniture Factory in Alfortville” and “View from the Sevri Bridge”. On them, the painter depicted a free interpretation of the factory for the production of armchairs and chairs in Alfortville and one of the districts of Sevri on the southwestern outskirts of the French capital.
The Furniture Factory in Alfortwigle was written ten years earlier than The View from Sevri Bridge. When you look at the picture, the sky immediately catches your eye, with bizarre clouds on it. On the left is a river, and in the background is a bridge. But both elements are, rather, of secondary importance. All the compositional construction of the painting comes from the wavy sidewalk, which unexpectedly creates the impression of the right perspective, rare for Russo’s paintings. The factory building itself strongly resembles a cardboard house from theatrical scenery, and figures of people around look unnatural. All this makes the scene very conditional, almost surreal.
A striking element of the picture is the figure of a fisherman in the foreground. Initially, his image was only a compositional necessity. However, after the character was completed, the artist discovered that this fisherman, waiting for the bite, symbolizes a certain existence outside of time and space, thus embodying eternity in the picture. It is this distinctive approach to the depiction of time that sharply distinguishes Rousseau from the Impressionists, who were characterized by admiring a moment taken separately from life.
The compositional center of the second picture is the bridge over the Seine, which connects its wooded shores. The black and white boat, located in the foreground, is very expressive, its hull is strangely similar to the face of a man. Small figures of pedestrians merge with houses shaded by red foliage. Red and gray-green roofs perfectly match the gamut of the autumn landscape. A balloon, a hang glider and an airplane symbolize the three epochs of conquering the sky, which were often mentioned in the press of that time, and which Rousseau himself admired.
In 1910, Henri Russo creates his greatest masterpiece - the canvas "Dream", exhibited by him in the same year at the 26th Salon of Independents. All his friends and colleagues unanimously claim that the work is worthy of the best reviews. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire writes about her in one of his articles: “I think that this year no one dares to laugh. You can ask the artists - everyone is unanimous, everyone admires them, even this sofa in the style of Louis - Philippe, lost in a virgin forest. And they are right. ”
Russo supplies the work with the following comments: “Jadwig has a magical dream. She quietly fell asleep to the flute of an unknown seducer. When a month casts light on flowers and green trees, animals, and even predators, freeze, listening to the wonderful sounds of music. ” Andre Breton (1896 - 1966) will note, a few years later: “I am close to saying: this great canvas absorbed all the poetry and all the secrets of our time. It is characterized by the inexhaustible freshness of discoveries… "
The painting "Dream", which has become one of the last works of Russo, is considered the will of the artist. Intertwined, the plants create an illusion of space on the canvas, which is echoed by the whole color scheme of the picture. The feeling of depth is emphasized by iridescent shades of green. Monkeys frolic in bizarre branches, where bright exotic birds are seen everywhere, and below, under them, predators roam in the grass. Only a black musician stands in the thick grass and plays his flute, as if not noticing anything around. Both characters and plants are torn from real space, their characteristic form and their true condition, but they are all written out so carefully that they look incredibly plausible. As if anticipating his demise, Henri Russo leaves us a legacy of a true paradise.With his “Dream”, the artist illuminated the coming generation with the road to surreal art, ahead of his time.
In the same 1910, Rousseau painted another picture - “The attack of the jaguar on the horse”, bought later by the patron Ambroise Vollard. The artist himself was proud of the work. “Twenty-two shades of green!” - the painter proudly told the famous Italian critic Argendo Soffichchi, who came to him to look at a new work. Sofficchi was shocked by the picturesque manner of Rousseau. After drawing with a pencil all the contours of exotic plants, the artist applied various shades of green in separate strokes, prescribing each fragment several times, and carefully cleans the palette with each color change.
Despite the fact that Rousseau’s personal sympathies were always on the side of academic painting, he received recognition only among the most progressive contemporaries - avant-garde artists were his best friends all his life. The creative manner of the artist himself is attributed to primitivism, thanks to his original style and because of his love for Italian primitive artists, such as Fra Angelico (c. 1400 - 1455) and Giotto (1267 - 1337), who worked in the XIV and XV centuries, when the laws of a classical perspective had not yet been discovered, the absence of which would become a real hallmark of all of Rousseau’s work. “Only in 1885, after numerous disappointments, was I able to devote myself to art, studied myself, learned nature and took the advice of Jerome and Clement,” says Henri Russo about himself.
In search of his own style, Russo worked a lot in the Louvre, creating copies of the masterpieces of the great masters of the past. The painter received permission to work in the famous museum thanks to his friend Felix Clement (1826 - 1888), who, like Rousseau himself, was a self-taught artist. But, unlike the Customs officer, Clement was recognized and kindly by the authorities. He, the lucky winner of the Roman Grand Prix of the French Republic, was paid for accommodation and training in Italy. The intelligent Clement, a devoted friend and delicate adviser, never allowed himself to be ridiculed or mocked at Rousseau and his paintings. On the contrary, he always insisted that the artist remained faithful to his style and did not turn off the chosen road. Clement introduces the Customs Officer to Leon Jerome (1824 - 1904),who worked at that time on the artistic embodiment of the lofty scenes of ancient mythology and ancient Eastern plots. Jerome - the star of official art - belonged to a group of artists - pompiers, named for their pompous luxury inherent in their canvases and pretentious splendor, and for the characteristic headdresses of their ancient heroes, reminiscent of helmets of firefighters (pompiers).
With rare exceptions, such as Clement and Jerome, Russo’s friends belonged mainly to the circle of Independent Artists. It was the representatives of neo-impressionism, in particular Georges Cera (1859 - 1891) and Paul Signac (1863 - 1935), who were the first to recognize a brilliant and original master in Rousseau in 1886. Signac highly appreciated his talent as a colorist, and Camille Pissarro (1831-1903) was loudly admired by the artist’s works, recognizing that it was precisely “feelings in the first place”. Robert Delaunay, the former, together with his wife Sonia (1885 - 1979), one of the founders of abstract art, expressed their admiration for the artist.
Delaunay and Russo become friends, despite the fact that the Customs officer does not always penetrate the essence of the creative research of his friend. “Why did Robert break the Eiffel Tower?” - Rousseau’s sincere question regarding the painting by Delaunay led to the appearance of the legend about the Customs officer as a naive genius who never really understood the figurative techniques of avant-garde art.
The author of this, like many other legends about the artist’s life, was the modernist poet Guillaume Apollinaire. He created myths about Rousseau, passing through his poetic imagination the story of his life, and the artist, in turn, immortalized his image on canvas. Apollinaire described the process of writing his own portrait: “First of all, he measured my nose, mouth, my ears, my forehead, my arms, my whole body and very accurately transferred all these measurements to his canvas, reducing it in accordance with the size of the frame. (…) I did not move, watching with admiration how anxious he was towards the work of his imagination, not allowing anyone and anyone to interfere in the creative process, so as not to disturb the harmony of the picture. And how mathematically accurately he depicted the figure of a man! If my portrait had nothing in common with my appearance, this would not have happened through the fault of Rousseau,but due to some annoying calculation error. However, even those who are not familiar with me recognized me in the picture. ” In the role of the poet’s muse, the canvas depicts the artist and Apollinaire’s close friend, Marie Lorensen (1883 - 1956).
An evening in the history of art
Here is an example of one of the stories related to the life of Russo and his friends. One January evening in 1908, Rousseau and Apollinaire appeared in Bago Lavoir, where Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), an artist from Catalonia, set up his workshop in a small wooden house. The customs officer, wearing a soft felt hat, takes pride of place at the table, leaving outer clothing and a cane at the door. On the wall hangs the work of the self-taught artist "Portrait of Mrs. M." (that same mysterious "Jadwiga"). The wall itself is decorated with flags, lanterns and a large poster with the inscription "In honor of Rousseau." The guests present are all in high spirits, some have already visited the nearby tavern.
Apollinaire solemnly recites the ode he wrote for this evening: “We have gathered to honor you with wine, which pours Picasso. There is reason to drink, and we will drink and rejoice: “Long live Rousseau!” Around the table gathered: artists Georges Braque (1882 - 1963), Marie Lorensen and Andre Derain (1880 - 1954), writer Andre Salomon, poet Max Jacob (1876 - 1944) and two American women - the famous writer Gertrude Stein (1874 - 1946) and Alicia Toklas. Wine flows like water, Rousseau takes the violin and plays the waltz that he once wrote for Clemence. Then he comes to Picasso and quietly says in his ear: "We are the two greatest artists of the era." Then Apollinaire gets up again and reads a poem telling about Rousseau’s trip to Mexico invented by him: “Do you remember, Rousseau, the Aztec landscape? Forests where pineapples and mangoes grew, Merry monkeys, watermelon pulp,Race warmed the emperor Maximilian? "Your paintings come from Mexico, Where the burning sun and the riot of nature." An artist who has never been to this country does not even try to object, because today is the long-awaited day of his triumph.
Later, a friend of Picasso, Fernanda Olivier will argue that the festive reception in Bateau Lavoir was a joke, a hoax. However, Andre Salomon writes in his memoirs: "In Bato Lavoir, we had only one task - we wanted to give Rousseau the holiday he deserved." This technique in Bato Lavoir was one of the key moments in the history of the development of modern painting: it was there that two generations of artists met, thanks to whom new art was born.
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