Long before Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910) became one of the most celebrated artists of his time, even before he was honored by major retrospectives and world appreciation in such iconic institutions as the MoMA and the Tate Museum, he had a really rough time and spent most of his life being either dismissed or ridiculed. Rousseau was born into poverty, since a very early age he began working alongside his father who was a plumber at the time, actually, by the age of forty he still worked as a toll collector and had no education whatsoever when it comes to painting. He stood his ground and overcame the harsh criticism with which his art was met during his entire life, and continued to paint from a deep place of creative conviction, with an irrepressible impulse to make art anyway.
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau is a new release by writer Michelle Markel and illustrator Amanda Hall, it beautifully illustrates this inspiring cultural icon’s biography and at the same time tells an emboldening real-life story of remarkable resilience and optimism in the face of public criticism.
“He holds his paintbrush to the canvas. A tiger crawls out. Lightning strikes, and wind whips the jungle grass. Sometimes Henri is so startled by what he paints that he has to open the window to let in some air.”
“Once again he takes his work to the art show. This time, perhaps, he’ll please the experts. His pulse races. The experts say he paints like a child. “If you want to have a good laugh,” one of them writes, “go see the paintings by Henri Rousseau.” By now Henry is used to the nasty critics. He knows his shapes are simpler and flatter than everyone else’s, but he thinks that makes them lovely.”
“Whenever Henri has money to spare, and stages a concert in his little studio, all the artists come. Along with the grocer, locksmith, and other folks from the neighborhood, they listen to Henri’s students and friends play their musical instruments. Henri gives the shiniest, reddest apples to the children.”