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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Tiger in a Tropical Storm” by Henri Rousseau

"Tiger in a Tropical Storm" by Henri Rousseau

“Tiger in a Tropical Storm”

by Henri Rousseau

“Tiger in a Tropical Storm” by Henri Rousseau was the first of the artist’s jungle paintings and shows a tiger, illuminated by a flash of lightning, preparing to pounce on its prey during a raging gale. Rousseau had never left France to see real jungles. Still, his inspiration came from the botanical gardens of Paris, which included zoological galleries and from geographic illustrations in prints and books. The tiger’s prey is beyond the canvas, so it is left to the imagination of the viewer to decide what is the victim.

Rousseau exhibited this painting in 1891 under the title “Surpris!” at an exhibition that was open to all artists and had no judges as gatekeepers. The picture received mixed reviews, as most critics mocked Rousseau’s work as childish. Despite its apparent simplicity, Rousseau’s jungle painting was built up meticulously in layers, using a large number of green shades to capture the lush abundance of the jungle. He also devised his method for depicting the lashing rain by trailing strands of silver paint diagonally across the canvas.

“Tiger in a Tropical Storm” brought Rousseau his first recognition, and he continued to exhibit his work annually at the Salon des Indépendants. Critical responses to his work did not change. His work continued to be derided by the critics up to and after his death in 1910. Fortunately, however, Rousseau did win a loyal following and support from among his contemporaries, such as Picasso, Matisse, and Toulouse-Lautrec were all admirers of his work.

Henri Rousseau

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

Rousseau 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 duty customs officer and tax collector. Many critics who ridiculed his work disparaged Rousseau’s style; however, he always aspired, in vain, for acceptance. Many observers commented that he painted like a child, but the work shows sophistication with his unique style and technique.

Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose work exerted a significant influence on several generations of avant-garde artists. Today, Henri Rousseau’s paintings are highly valued and prominent in the world’s leading art museums.

The Repast of the Lion

  • Title:                    Tiger in a Tropical Storm
  • Also:                    Surprised!
  • Artist:                   Henri Rousseau
  • Date:                    1891
  • Medium:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:        130 cm × 162 cm (​51 1⁄8 in × ​63 3⁄4 in)
  • Museum:              The National Gallery, London

Henri Rousseau

Tour of 19th Century Paintings at the National Gallery, London

Tour of 20th Century Paintings at the National Gallery, London

Reflections

  • He received little critical acclaim during his lifetime. Today it is a different story.
  • Henri Rousseau’s first jungle painting.
  • Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he influenced many artists.
  • When is it too late to develop a new passion?
  • Is there room today for self-taught artists to make a difference?

~~~

“Beauty is the promise of happiness.”
– Henri Rousseau

~~~


Photo Credits: 1) Henri Rousseau [Public domain]

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