La Seine à Suresnes, painting by Henri Rousseau (before 1911)

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Who was Henri Rousseau?

La Seine à Suresnes is a painting by Henri J. F. Rousseau (1844 – 1910) who was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier (the customs officer), a humorous description of his occupation as a toll collector. 

Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized ase a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality. Rousseau’s work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists.

The visual style of Michel Ocelot’s 1998 animation film, Kirikou and the Sorceress, is partly inspired by Rousseau, particularly the depiction of the jungle vegetation. A Rousseau painting was used as an inspiration for the 2005 animated film Madagascar.


His best-known paintings depict jungle scenes, even though he never left France or saw a jungle. Stories spread by admirers that his army service included the French expeditionary force to Mexico are unfounded. His inspiration came from illustrations in children’s books and the botanical gardens in Paris, as well as tableaux of taxidermy wild animals.

He had also met soldiers during his term of service who had survived the French expedition to Mexico, and he listened to their stories of the subtropical country they had encountered. To the critic Arsène Alexandre, he described his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes: “When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream.”

Along with his exotic scenes there was a concurrent output of smaller topographical images of the city and its suburbs.

He claimed to have invented a new genre of portrait landscape, which he achieved by starting a painting with a specific view, such as a favourite part of the city, and then depicting a person in the foreground.

Image: La Seine à Suresnes by Henri Rousseau – Public Domain
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Henri Rousseau.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Sep. 2016. Web. 30 Sep. 2016.

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