The Customs Officer, who cleared customs?
The creative elite
At the end of the nineteenth century, a group of painters who wrote the history of art lived in Paris: Picasso, Braque, de Vlaminck, Modigliani and many others. Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism follow one another and are integrated in a lively and creative Parisian cultural pot.
And here is Henri Julien Felix Rousseau, born on 21 May 1844, a customs officer at the municipal duty of Paris with the hobby of painting.
Invitation to dinner from Picasso
In November 1908 he was invited by Picasso who organized a dinner in his honor.
A banner on the top floor of the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, where Picasso has his studio, tells his friends where the party in honor of the "customs officer" will be held.
Apollinaire, the collectors Gertrud and Leo Stein, Braque and other poets and painters intervene in large numbers because Picasso likes the "customs officer" and therefore it is necessary to celebrate him.
But who was this customs officer?
The son of a hardware store and the daughter of a commander of the Legion of Honor, he abandoned his studies to join the infantry. On the death of his father he takes his leave and moves to Paris as the secretary of a bailiff. He avoids the Franco-Prussian war because he is the son of a widowed mother and since 1871 he enters the duty of the municipality of Paris, a job that will identify him in the artistic world.
Henri did not study at all in any academy, but he likes to paint and here he is creating paintings as he knows and how he can.
What style does the painter Rosseau have?
Completely self-taught, he does not use perspective, his images have no depth, they do not respect proportions, in short, technically there is no history.
He paints what his imagination suggests: exotic animals in improbable invented forests, flowers as big as people and so on.
Obviously the critics (and the market) judge him for what he is: a painter who cannot paint. But then why does Picasso want to honor him? Why do you buy all your paintings? (even if for a few francs they don't even pay back the material)
What does Picasso find in the Customs Officer?
The Customs Officer touched a nerve in Picasso's character which said:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up ”.
Picasso considered himself capable of painting like Raphael, but his creative tension, his research was to be able to express himself free from any conditioning and to be able to paint like a child.
And for Picasso, the Customs Officer, it was just that: a person free from all conditioning, primitive, without academic education and therefore "authentic".
From that moment Henri Rosseau entered the cultural elite and even the critics (like Picasso) insult him less.
This will not prevent the Customs Officer from always living in debt burdens until his death in 1910.
Art, Painting and Market
This fortunate case in the life of Henry Rosseau raises the debated problem of the tasks and function of figurative art. Do you have to know how to paint to be an artist? After all the Beatles couldn't read a score musical and they were self-taught and became part of the history of music.
A separate matter, which increases the confusion, is the market.
What about a cartoonist like Bansky who, by his own admission, copied heavily from Bleck le Rat and Nick Walker and unlike them is exhibited in museums and considered an "artist"?
Is it enough to have band-aid and bananas and a certain cunning to qualify as an "artist"?
The answers are still open.