Henri Rousseau: Fauvisme

Anna Forsman

Henri Rousseau was born on May 21, 1844, in Laval, France. He was a Post-Impressionist painter, more specifically a Fauvist; he painted many scenes of wild animals or humans in the jungle. He lacked professional training, so his works are easily identified as childish because they lack perspective and anatomy. His paintings are dream-like and unrealistic, which sets him apart from Impressionists and their works. He died on September 2, 1910, and he left a legacy that inspired Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, and more. His unique style helped inspire the artists who were the first Post-Impressionist/ Surrealists.
In this painting titled 'The Hungry Lion Attacking An Antelope,' Rousseau depicts a jungle scene that accurately represents the Circle of Life. Although Rousseau had never been to the jungle, he was able to imagine this scene (like many others) and paint them. The main elements and principles used are color, texture, space, [lack of] proportion, and contrast. Most of the painting is green because of the plant life, so the tan animals contrast against the green. Additionally, the orange sun in the background also creates contrast because of color. The monochromatic plants have a lot of texture, which creates depth in the painting. The animals themselves lack texture, forcing them to stand out because they look very unrealistic and childish compared to the plants. There is little to no open space in the painting, which moves your eyes around, keeping the viewer interested. There is an owl hidden in the leaves near the sun, which makes the viewer look closer for any more wildlife. There is also a panther on the right side of the painting on a tree branch. Rousseau's paintings usually lack proportion, meaning most of his works include unrealistic sizing of the subjects. However, in this painting, the plants are much larger than the animals, which makes the jungle setting realistic and the use of proportion apparent. Although his use of proportion seems realistic in this painting, the painting still appears childlike with "boxy" subjects. This painting represents the theme of Fauvism because the painting is of wild beasts, which is the direct translation of "Fauvisme" and "les Fauves." The Circle of Life and predator/prey is shown because the lion is preying on the antelope for survival. The elements and principles of design enforce the blunt mood and feeling of the painting because it is very real and straightforward. Overall, Rousseau's painting style can easily be identified as his because of his unique techniques. It is blunt, realistic and true while still seeming childlike because of his lack of training.
In this painting titled "The Waterfall", there are two antelopes and two men relaxing by a waterfall. One man is hidden behind the plants. There is a lot of plant life in the background of the painting. There is not much happening; the painting depicts a casual jungle scene. This painting uses the following elements and principles of design: color, [lack of] proportion, dominance/emphasis, and contrast. Rousseau uses color as an element/principle of design by using a mostly monochromatic green background, making the subjects of the painting (the men and the animals) pop out, along with the section of red plants. This can also be called contrast. This draws the eye to the subjects of the painting, which are the men and the animals, even though it may appear that the plants are more significant. This leads into the principle proportion, which leads into dominance/emphasis. The plants and trees are much bigger than the men and the animals; the leaves are larger than the man's entire torso. This lack of proportion introduces the idea that the leaves are dominant over the men and the animals. So, dominance/emphasis is used to enforce the feeling of the painting. The overall feeling/mood of the painting is that the men and the animals are insignificant and powerless compared to nature because they are only specks compared to the trees. Although trees are larger than humans in real life, the tree is significantly larger for a small painting and the leaves, specifically, are massive. Additionally, there is an overwhelming amount of plants and trees compared to the few animals/men. This shows a theme of nature and Fauvism because it is once again a painting of the jungle that represents how vast and varied the world is. The men and the animals represent the "wild beasts" because they live among the plant life and deep in the heart of the jungle, where they lounge near "The Waterfall".
In this painting, "The Equatorial Jungle", two wild animals are turned around, peering through an overwhelming amount of plant life and looking straight at where the artist would be standing. It is hard to determine what animals are depicted because they are mostly covered by plants. The elements and principles of design that are used are: color, contrast, [lack of] shape, space, [lack of] balance, asymmetry, [lack of] proportion, and dominance/emphasis. Similarly to "The Waterfall", the background of the painting is mostly monochromatic green with pops of color that stand out. For example, the animals and some of the plants are different colors. These colors create contrast. Although the plants are detailed and structured, the animals lack shape, which also makes them hard to identify along with the coverage from the plants. This makes the work easily distinguishable as Rousseau's. The open space in the top left corner creates asymmetry and a lack of balance because the rest of the painting is covered in dense plant life. The overwhelming amount of plants also creates a lack of proportion which introduces the element/principle that is dominance/emphasis. The flowers are bigger than the animals' heads, which shows that Rousseau was depicting the jungle as a vast, powerful place with a mind of its own. The lack of proportion and balance makes this painting similar to "The Waterfall" because it appears that Rousseau thought of the jungle as mysterious and varied. How he created his painting enforces the common themes of life, nature and fauvism while painting a dreamlike version of a place he'd never been. Although this painting is different from the previous painting analyzed, it is obvious that Rousseau painted them in the same state of mind because he incorporated many similar elements and beliefs into both of these paintings.
In this painting titled "The Snake Charmer", a wild human-like creature appears to be playing a pungi, or snake-charming flute. This can be assumed because of the snakes in the painting or simply the title of the painting. This painting could be related to the Bible story of Adam and Eve, who lived in the luscious garden of Eden and were taunted by Satan who took the form of a serpent. The painting is of a general scene with a nondescript subject that can be left for the viewer's interpretation. The elements and principles of design that are used are color, contrast, shape/form, and proportion. Once again, this painting uses almost only shades of green, ranging from the pale green sky to the almost-black but dark green silhouette of the charmer. The silhouette contrasts against the pale green sky along with the pink duck that is to the left of the charmer. This appears to be one of Rousseau's more life-like paintings because the elements/principles of shape/form and proportion are somewhat present. The shape/form of the creature in the painting is some sort of primate, making it realistic and identifiable. Additionally, proportion exists in the painting---to some extent. The sizes of some of the snakes in relation to the wild beast seem realistic. However, the proportion is inconsistent because some of the snakes and most of the leaves are too big to be realistic. This further proves that Rousseau had no professional training whatsoever because these elements in his paintings are inconsistent. Some of the common, obvious themes of this painting are life, nature, and Fauvism; life and nature are themes because of the recurring jungle theme that incorporates Fauvism and depictions of "les Fauves" into the paintings. The wild beast in this painting is special and unique because of its possible connection to the story of Adam and Eve or Satan in general, as mentioned earlier. All of Rousseau's wild creatures leave viewers feeling the same way: intrigued. Because Rousseau taught himself everything he knew about art, his style is so unique to himself. No one else thought the way he thought and his techniques were never taught in art schools, making them 100% original. Henri Rousseau's style of Fauvism was all about his imagination and his feelings. His style was an incredibly distinct style that paved the way for many other artists that followed him.
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