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“The Dream” by Henri Rousseau

"The Dream" by Henri Rousseau

“The Dream” by Henri Rousseau

“The Dream” by Henri Rousseau is one of 25 paintings by Rousseau with a stylized jungle theme. The jungle plants are based on Rousseau’s observations at the Paris Museum of Natural History and its Jardin des Plantes. It features a portrait of Rousseau’s Polish mistress from his youth, lying naked on a divan. She is gazing over a landscape of lush jungle foliage, including lotus flowers, and animals including birds, monkeys, an elephant, a lion and lioness, and a snake.

The Dream is the largest of the jungle paintings. It was his last completed work, a few months before his death in 1910. Rousseau’s earlier works had received a negative reception, but poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire remarked on its debut:

“The picture radiates beauty, that is indisputable. I believe nobody will laugh this year.”

The nude’s left arm reaches towards the lions and a black snake charmer who faces the viewer playing his flute, barely visible in the gloom of the jungle under the dim light of the full moon. Rousseau may have taken inspiration from Émile Zola’s novel Le Rêve, which deals with the love between a painter and an embroideress. Suspecting that some viewers did not understand the painting, Rousseau wrote a poem to accompany the painting:

“Yadwigha (the women’s name) in a beautiful dream
Having fallen gently to sleep
Heard the sounds of a reed instrument
Played by a well-intentioned [snake] charmer.
As the moon reflected
On the rivers [or flowers], the verdant trees,
The wild snakes lend an ear
To the joyous tunes of the instrument.”

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, to common acceptance. Many observers commented that he painted like a child, but the work shows sophistication with his unique style and technique. Following his funeral the following epitaph was written by his friends and put on his tombstone:

We salute you, Gentle Rousseau, you can hear us.
Let our luggage pass duty-free through the gates of heaven.
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas.
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light and Truth of Painting.
As you once did, my portrait facing the stars, lion, and the gypsy.

Ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose work exerted an extensive 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.

Henri Rousseau: Did you know?

  • Henri Rousseau was ridiculed during his lifetime by art critics.
  • Henri Rousseau was self-taught and yet had an extensive influence on many avant-garde artists.
  • This iconic painting has been parodied by various artists with the lion often being replaced by a dog or other animal.
  • Animals and the jungle both inspired Rousseau. However, his sources of imagination were not extensive travels; it was illustrated books and visits to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Paris.
  • After his retirement in 1893, Rousseau supplemented his small pension with part-time jobs and work such as playing the violin in the streets.

“The Dream” by Henri Rousseau

  • Title:                            The Dream
  • French:                        Le Rêve (Occasionally also known as Le Songe or Rêve exotique)
  • Artist:                           Henri Rousseau
  • Date:                            1910
  • Medium:                      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:                Height: 204.5 cm (80.5 ″); Width: 298.5 cm (117.5 ″)
  • Museum:                      Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NYC

Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau Quotes

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“Beauty is the promise of happiness ”

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“The universe was born restless and has never since been still.”

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“It is often said that my heart is too open for my own good.”

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“Excuse my scribbling, it is late, and I have a poor candle. ”

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“I have always believed that good is only beauty put into practice.”

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“It is often said that my heart is too open for my own good. ”

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“The landscapist lives in silence.”

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“Cities are the sinks of the human race.”

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“I cannot now change my style, which I acquired, as you can imagine, by dint of labor.”

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“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness. ”

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“The happiest is the person who suffers the least pain; most miserable the ones who enjoy the least pleasure ”

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“Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see.”

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A Tour of the Museum of Modern Art, (MoMA), NY

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

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Photo Credits: 1) Henri Rousseau [Public domain]