Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was a French post-impressionist painter who was subjected to ridicule by critics during his lifetime. And yet, he became known as a self-taught genius who had enormous influence on several generations of avant-grade artists.
How often have critics been on the wrong side of history? Perhaps the better question is – how can we be on the right side of history?
Pablo Picasso recognized Henri J.R. Rousseau’s genius the moment he saw a painting by Rousseau being sold on the street as a canvas to be painted over. It was as if the universe had orchestrated that a young artist would discover a great work by an older artist. Picasso was so enthralled with the painting he arranged to meet Rousseau at the first opportunity.
In 1908, two years before Rousseau’s passing, Picasso held “Le Banquet Rousseau,” which was “one of the most notable social events of the twentieth century” according to John Malcolm Brinnin, American poet and literary critic, who was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (another Canadian connection)
The guests at the banquet were the creative elites of the age: Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Leo Stein, and Gertrude Stein.
“Henri Rousseau died 2 September 1910 in the Hospital Necker in Paris. Seven friends stood at his grave in the Cimetiere de Bagneux: the painters Paul Signac and Otiz de Zarate, Robert Delaunay and his wife Sonia Terk, the sculptor Brancusi, Rousseau’s landlord Armand Queval and Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the epitaph Brancusi put on the tombstone: HenriRousseau.org
We salute you
Gentle Rousseau you can hear us
Delaunay his wife Monsieur Queval and myself
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light of truth Painting
as you once did my portrait
Facing the stars