Whilst the public often ridiculed Rousseau’s work and organisers of the official Salon exhibitions rejected his submissions, he was admired by a younger generation of avant-garde artists, many of whom also lived and worked in Montparnasse at various points in their careers. This group of artists included Picasso, who bought several of Rousseau’s paintings and held a legendary banquet, ‘Le Banquet Rousseau’, in his honour. Many of these younger artists were fascinated by so-called ‘primitive’ art, discovering a powerful form of expression in African tribal masks and other non-Western artefacts. For them, Rousseau was a home-grown curiosity, a ‘modern primitive’ whose paintings captured something of the vitality they admired in these other art forms.

Picasso purchased Rousseau’s painting Portrait of a Woman c.1895 for five francs in 1907. He kept it by him, moving it from residence to residence for the next 65 years, until his death in 1973.

Brassaï, photo of Picasso in his studio at 23 rue La Boétie, standing in front of Rousseau’s Portrait of a Woman 1932
Brassaï, photo of Picasso in his studio at 23 rue La Boétie, standing in front of Rousseau’s Portrait of a Woman 1932

This pair of portraits (below), representing Rousseau and his wife, were acquired by the painter Robert Delaunay and later purchased by Picasso, who proudly displays them in this photograph (see below) taken in 1965. The simplicity of the subjects and the lamps evoke the domesticity of family life. Such paintings were much admired by the Parisian avant-garde, who applauded Rousseau’s ability to find poetry in the everyday.

Henri Rousseau - Portrait of the Artist 1900-3
Henri Rousseau
Portrait of the Artist
1900-3
Henri Rousseau - Portrait of the Artist’s Second Wife with a lamp 1900-3
Henri Rousseau
Portrait of the Artist’s Second Wife with a lamp 1900–3
André Gomés - Picasso in his studio in the country house Notre Dame de Vie with the portraits of the Rousseaus 1965
André Gomés
Picasso in his studio in the country house Notre Dame de Vie with the portraits of the Rousseaus
1965