|"The Wedding" by Henri Rousseau.|
Henri Rousseau, called Le Douanier , was born in Laval, Mayenne, France in 1844 and he died in 1910. Joined the Army when he turned eighteen and was assigned to play the saxophone in a regimental band. Served in the Franco-Prussian War, was discharged in 1871, and settled in Paris with Yadwigha, the Polish girl he had married in 1869. He got a job as a second-class clerk in the Customs Service, from whence came the nickname he has become known by, Le Douanier.
Without any formal training, he began to paint in the 1880's. In 1886, in his early forties, he retired from the Customs Service on a small pension - which he supplemented by giving drawing and music lessons to the neighborhood children - and devoted most of his time to painting. He began submitting to the Salon des Independants in 1886, and exhibited regularly for the next twenty years without notice more favorable than ridicule. In 1905 he began exhibiting at the Salon d'Automne, and gradually attracted the attention of artists and writers like Gauguin, Derain, Vlaminck, Delaunay, Picasso, Apollinaire, Max Jacob, and Raynal. In 1907 he met Wilhelm Uhde, the famous art critic, who wrote the first monograph on him a few years later. In 1908 Picasso gave a banquet for him at the Bateau-Lavoir, and he was heralded as the pet of the avant-garde. The pleasure of success in his last few years was somewhat spoiled for him by personal difficulties, particularly the heartbreak of being turned down by a woman he wanted to marry. (He was already twice a widower.) He died of pneumonia on October 2, 1910, and was buried in a pauper's grave; his remains were later transferred to Laval, and an epitaph written by Apollinaire and engraved in stone by Brancusi and Orthiz de Zarate was placed on his grave.
Henri Rousseau was an outstanding example of the Naive painter. Though untaught and ingenuous, he produced a remarkable body of work that includes scenes of family occasions, military events and sports, landscapes of Paris and its environs, bouquets of flowers and exotic and allegorical scenes such as "The Dream" and "Sleeping Gypsy." His paintings have won universal recognition, and are found in the Louvre and important museums of modern art throughout the world.