Art Term

Naïve art

Naïve art is simple, unaffected and unsophisticated – usually specifically refers to art made by artists who have had no formal training in an art school or academy

Henri Rousseau (`Le Douanier’), ‘Bouquet of Flowers’ c.1909–10
Henri Rousseau (`Le Douanier’)
Bouquet of Flowers c.1909–10
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Alfred Wallis, ‘Voyage to Labrador’ ?c.1935–6
Alfred Wallis
Voyage to Labrador ?c.1935–6
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André Bauchant, ‘The Funeral Procession of Alexander the Great’ 1940
André Bauchant
The Funeral Procession of Alexander the Great 1940
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© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017

Naïve art is characterised by childlike simplicity of execution and vision. As such it has been valued by modernists seeking to get away from what they see as the insincere sophistication of art created within the traditional system.

The most famous naïve artist of modern times is Henri Rousseau, known as Le Douanier (customs man) from the full-time job he held. Others are André Bauchant and in Britain the St Ives seaman Alfred Wallis, whose work famously influenced Ben Nicholson.

Naïve artists are sometimes referred to as modern primitives (see primitivism). The category also overlaps with what is called outsider art, or in France art brut. This includes art of children and also art made by people on the fringes of society such as prisoners and mentally ill people.