Naïve art is a term in painting used to describe someone who has received little or no professional training. As a painting style, it focuses mainly on the raw and primal aspects of what is being painted rather than simply trying to reproduce a realistic copy.
The Naïve artist favors depicting color over form and distortion over proportion. This results in completely abstract paintings compared to the original image that is being painted and looks almost childish in appearance. However, despite the lack of professional techniques, Naïve paintings have captivating and charming qualities.
Henri Rousseau is perhaps the most famous and influential Naïve artist. The Frenchman not only brought the style into the mainstream but also cemented it as a feasible painting style for future artists to follow going forward. The following presentation looks at some of Rousseau’s best paintings and the techniques he used to create them.
The Repast of the Lion (1907)
Above all else, world-famous painter Henri Rousseau became known primarily due to his fantastically imaginative jungle paintings. When talking about his art and best paintings, time and time again, his jungle paintings appear on top of the list. For Rousseau, the jungle was the ultimate symbol of freedom and primitivism that perfectly encapsulated the principles of the Naïve movement.
The list of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings is quite extensive, with some of the most famous ones being Tiger in a Tropical Storm, The Dream, and of course, The Repast of the Lion. Each one includes a wild animal as its central point of interest, either devouring an animal or stalking one.
Painted with oil on canvas techniques, The Repast of the Lion might be Rousseau’s most ferocious jungle painting of the bunch. However, the lion present sits calmly in the colorful bush feeding on the carcass of a jaguar. Like many of Rousseau’s jungle paintings, on the surface, it is a beautifully colorful painting, while underneath, it is said to represent principles such as the power of nature and life and death.
Carnival Evening (1886)
Carnival Evening is one of the first paintings Henri Rousseau made in his professional career. Its simple style and charming composition resonated with a world of art undergoing massive changes. The days of realistic landscape paintings and religious narratives quickly fell out of fashion in favor of trendy movements such as Impressionism and Expressionism.
Rousseau’s naïve and primitive painting style fits right in with the principles of these modern movements, and his Naïve art quickly rose in popularity. Like much of Rousseau’s art, this painting piqued audiences’ interest with its mood and uneasy, almost dreamlike quality. Rousseau’s distortions capture both the viewer’s imagination and their emotions.
The painting is dark and brooding, and the figures within add to the dreamlike or nightmare-like feel. Two people stand in a dark forest as dusk falls upon them. The figures in the foreground and the trees in the background give the viewer a strange feeling. This is the painting that established Rosseau as an artist. Although it is one of his earliest works, it is considered one of his best paintings.
Ride of Discord (1894)
Rousseau once famously said he had “no teacher other than nature itself.” This statement perfectly summarizes what Henri Rousseau’s art is all about. Not being defined by or limited to predetermined rules, Rousseau was free to fully express himself in his artwork in any way he wanted to.
As a result, many of his paintings have a wildness and impression of freedom that has come to be regarded as the definitive qualities of the Naïve art movement. His 1894 painting titled War is the perfect embodiment of this and is one of Rousseau’s most iconic paintings.
Painted with Post-Impressionist techniques and Primitivism aesthetics, Rousseau interestingly chose a woman to be the character representing war. Riding on a black horse with a sword in hand, she gallops through a forest of dead bodies. This is one of Rousseau’s most interpreted paintings, with many people believing it stands as an anti-war piece, as well as individual freedom and women’s rights.
Portrait of Clemence (1895)
It is well documented that the famous Spanish Abstract painter Pablo Picasso was heavily influenced by Rousseau’s art and was one of his biggest fans. As the story goes, Picasso happened upon one of Rousseau’s paintings being sold by a street vendor and, after seeing it, proclaimed a genius painted it.
Picasso bought the painting and was determined to meet the artist who painted it. The two soon became friends, and the older Rousseau became somewhat of a mentor to Picasso for a while. So, what painting did Picasso see influenced his artwork so much? It was a portrait painting of a woman, of course.
Rousseau’s wife, Clemence, to be exact. The painting is filled with all the facial distortion and abstraction that Picasso would become famous for. When seeing his portrait work, it is easy to see the similarities and influence Rousseau had on Picasso and several other famous painters. He painted many portraits in his Naïve style. They would inspire later movements such as the Abstract and Surrealist movements, to name just two.
Of all the artistic movements popular throughout history, Naïve art holds a special place. Rooted deep in the past while flourishing in modern times, it acts like a bridge from art’s past to its future. Painter Henri Rousseau’s art was about connecting to our past roots and bringing them to culture’s attention again. His paintings are bright, bold, simplistic, and, most important of all, original.