As soon as my eyes set sight on the metro ads for the Musée d’Orsay most recent temporary exhibition dedicated to The Douanier Rousseau, I knew I just had to go. My first encounter with Rousseau’s art is lost in the haze of my childhood when while watching a movie The Dream painting came to life with one of the characters laying on a recliner in the deep dark jungle. I remember being fascinated with the sheer strangeness of the scene and the luxurious vegetation.
What I have always liked from this painter are his vegetal landscapes made of exotic jungles: dense and impenetrable. Those paintings cultivate an aura of mystery with animals hidden in the depth of the forest. Whimsical animals straight out of Henri Rousseau’s imagination as he was not much of a traveler and based his portrayals on books or trips to the Jardin des Plantes (a small zoo in Paris).
Knowing only Rousseau’s jungle paintings, I was eager to get acquainted with his earlier works. In his early paintings, you can feel the strangeness that can be felt when looking at the jungles but in this instance it looks like everything that could go wrong does: no perspective, wrong proportions, sitters painted in flat areas of colour and an unnatural base drawing. Often, I would feel repulsed by his paintings but still fascinated by them. At first they seem eminently naive, but there’s some indefinable spark that elevates them to the level of art.
In this temporary exhibition, I could feel that there was a desire to reinstate the reputation of this self-taught painter that was for a long time set aside and taxed with amateurism. That was because his style was neither academic nor one from the avant-garde schools of painting. But still, his art was forecasting the premises of the surrealist movement and found resonance with some avant-garde artists, such as with Picasso.
The last part of the Orsay museum’s exhibition is devoted to The Douanier Rousseau jungles, the paintings I am more sensitive to. What a delight it was to admire in Paris the large painting called The Dream that belongs to the MoMA NYC! I spent the most time in this room, circling it three times, to try and imprint these singularly expressive vegetal paintings on my mind. It is a pity that the images found in books or on the internet do not do any justice to the infinite shades of greens used by Rousseau.
Despite the crowds, I enjoyed visiting this exhibition of Henri Rousseau’s paintings. It allowed me to get acquainted with his earlier works but also admire his masterpieces. What I did not like is the fact that the Orsay museum charges the same rate to see the temporary exhibition or to see their permanent collection as it’s fairly expensive when you only want to see the exhibition. That is the reason why I seldom go to this museum, but I was happy to see this exceptional exhibition.
As a French-speaker, I could not help hearing in my head this kitschy song about the Douanier Rousseau.
The Douanier Rousseau, Archaic Candour
At the Musée d’Orsay, until July 17, 2016
Opening hours: from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM, open until 9:45 PM on Thursdays. Closed on Mondays.
Admission (adults): €12 (for temporary exhibitions and permanent collection)
Photography is allowed, except in temporary exhibitions.