Why did a customs officer become a famous artist?
The first reason that comes to mind to answer the question in this post is that Henry Rousseau, known as “Il Doganiere” because of his work, was a skilled painter.
This is not the case.
In his case the famous refrain of many modern art visitors "... I can do this too" is right: many can paint like Henri Rousseau.
The first difference is that he… did it.
We are in Paris in the early 1900s and for almost 60 years a gentleman who lives on occasional jobs, small clumsy thefts and expedients has proposed himself as a painter.
Inspired (or we could say by copying as he can) by the paintings of the Dutch painter Frans Post, he creates exotic views of Brazil.
Critics, merchants and other painters do not really consider it: no study, no perspective, no proportion, just figures and vegetation placed side by side as he could.
Each era, however, has its own myths. Today a bandana on the head, some shouted insult and free words can make us become invited TV characters in all broadcasts. Just a little luck and having a friend who works on TV in the right place.
At that time, in Paris, the myth of the "primitive" is born, of genuine expression without the conditioning of academies, of those who, ignoring any rule or knowledge, create their own "art" in absolute freedom.
A little luck, being noticed by Picasso And that's it.
Everything that was previously a reason for criticism and derision becomes "inspiration", "symbol", naivety and lack of school becomes "unconscious participation in the innovative ferments of art", return to origins and so on.
Apollinaire, Redon, Gauguin, Delaunay, Braque up to Kandinskij, they find meaning and profound reasons for praise for Henri's works.
Better late than never, goes a proverb. Rousseau died shortly after and we are left with his paintings, which have now entered the Olympus of art that, perhaps, we too could do ... or not?
Andrea Giuseppe Fadini