Dream Pictures

There is something dreamlike in the paintings of Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), mistakenly nicknamed Douanier Rousseau (he never worked for customs). Perhaps his most famous painting is that of the Sleeping Gypsy, shown above, in the presence of a lion, a stringed instrument, and a piece of pottery. Many of Rousseau’s paintings are set in the jungle or the desert, though he himself never visited either.

Below is one of his jungle scenes:

This painting is title Dreams of Henri Rousseau. The two jungle cats in the foreground have the same expression of the eyes as the lion in Sleeping Gypsy. As the art historian Daniel Catton Rich wrote:

His approach was far from literal. Inspired by his vision he arbitrarily rewove the appearance of nature to suit his purpose. The long series of imaginative paintings show Rousseau obsessed by one repeated scheme of composition. He imagines a strongly lighted distance against which he silhouettes darker forms of trees or foliage. Plane upon plane is piled up in intricate design, and usually two small figures focus the eye on the foreground. This same ‘dream picture’ haunted him from the days of “Carnival Evening” to the last jungle picture he painted.

Hitherto tied to the more realistic classics, Henri Rousseau represented an abrupt journey in the direction of modern art. His reality was what he dreamed it to be. Fortunately, it was close enough to actual reality in its intent if not its execution to remain mainstream long after many masterpieces of abstract expressionism fall by the wayside.