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“The Customs Post” by Henri Rousseau

The Customs Post by Henri Rousseau c1890

The Customs Post by Henri Rousseau

“The Customs Post” by Henri Rousseau depicts the uniformed employees of the Paris Customs Office at an octroi or toll gate to enter Paris. The Paris Customs Office charged a tax, called l’octroi, on most goods brought into the city. A wall surrounded Paris, and everyone entered the city through one of the gates.

In the late 1800’s there were 66 octroi gates into the city at the time, and about 2,000 officers were employed, Henri Rousseau was one of them. The citizens of Paris strongly disliked the octroi, but the government needed the money. The old octroi buildings can still be seen in Paris today.

Rousseau was self-taught and developed a style that lacked traditional training, with its absence of strict proportions, one-point perspective, and with the use of sharp, often unnatural colours. The result was art pieces that were imbued with a sense of mystery and eccentricity.

Henri Rousseau was a French post-impressionist painter who started painting seriously in his early forties, and by age 49 he retired from his job to work on his art full-time. His primary employment before he retired was as the customs officer or a toll and tax collector, which makes this painting relevant to his experience. Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognised as a self-taught genius whose work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists.

Toll Gate

  • Title:                      Toll Gate
  • Alternative title: The Customs Post
  • Français:              L’Octroi
  • Artist:                    Henri Rousseau
  • Medium:               Oil on canvas
  • Date:                      1890
  • Dimensions:        61 × 49.5 cm (24 × 19.5 in)
  • Museum:             Courtauld Gallery

Henri Rousseau

  • Name:                   Henri Julien Félix Rousseau
  • Born:                    1844 – Laval, Mayenne, France
  • Died:                     1910 (aged 66) – Paris, France
  • Nationality:         French
  • Movement:          Post-Impressionism, Naïve art, Primitivism
  • Notable works:

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“Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.” Queen Victoria

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Photo Credit: Henri Rousseau [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons