French painter, the greatest of the so-called 'modern primitives' or naive painters. Painted portraits, figure subjects, landscapes, still lifes and jungle scenes. Born at Laval (Mayenne). Served in the army 1863-8, then moved to Paris and became clerk to a bailiff. Entered the octroi service of Paris in 1871 as a dues collector (gabelou) at toll stations on the outskirts of Paris. Began to paint, self-taught, about the age of 40 and exhibited regularly from 1886 at the Salon des Indépendants. Retired from the octroi in 1893 in order to paint, but also supported himself by various odd jobs and later by giving painting and music lessons. Exhibited at the Salon d'Automne as well as the Indépendants 1905-7. He was 'discovered' about 1906-7 by Vollard, Apollinaire, Robert Delaunay, Picasso and Uhde, who admired and bought his work, and attended his musical soirées; Picasso gave a memorable 'banquet' in his honour in 1908. Many stories are told of his extreme naivety. Died in Paris.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.666