Henri Rousseau and the Wild Beasts

Henri Rousseau, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope

Rousseau’s main, and pretty much only, source of exposure for his work was the annual Salon des Independants from the years 1886 to 1910. But from 1905 to 1907 he also exhibited in the Salon d’Automne.

In 1905 Rousseau’s Hungry Lion was given a prominent place in that salon in a room with a Maillol sculpture as well as works by Roualt, Derain, Matisse, Braque, Marquet, Vlaminck, Dufy and others. This was the show where Louis Vauxcelles gave the artists their name of Fauves (Wild Beasts). And it’s hard to think other than that the source of the appellation was derived from Rousseau’s majestic painting.

I imagine that the poor Antelope might have been a stand in for the painter himself. By that time Rousseau, while clearly respected by many of his fellow artists and some intelligent critics, had been the victim of all kinds of long-running abuse. He was often the center of ridicule by the right-wing conservative types because his work was an easy target to take aim at in ways that would also discredit the avant-garde works around him. There was even a movement at one point to not let Rousseau’s work be hung with the other avant-gardists, and no doubt this was the reason.

In the Hungry Lion we see the antelope not being shredded by just the lion, but there’s a panther ready to pounce on what’s left of the carcass, as well as two birds, who we don’t normall think of as predatory, with strips of red flesh suspended from their beaks, also performing the brilliant addition of bright red accents amidst the foliage. The two birds play off the orange disc of the setting sun with a beautifully silhouetted tree in it’s middle. The invention and sophistication of Rousseau’s concept here is so far from being “primitive” that it makes him an enduring mystery. In many ways, it’s easy to see the work of Matisse, Dufy, Marquet and others as completely crude and insufficient when compared to Rousseau’s complex interweaving of completely plant forms in arrays of warm/cool and dark light where the liveliness and distinction of each separate leaf is preserved.

I also can’t help but love the mysterious bird beaked giant hidden in the foliage at the left, reminiscent of one of these Max Ernst monsters…

Another Rousseau with the same theme of an innocent being attacked by a devouring beast. Rousseau visited the theme a few times, which is what makes me think that he had a strong identification with it.



About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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