An Orchard

An Orchard c.1896
Harmo Museum, Nagano. Courtesy of Harmo Museum, Nagano.

Rousseau’s vision of Paris was unusually placid. While other French artists of his generation were attracted to urban scenes of cafes and boulevards, fashionable women and theatres, Rousseau’s paintings are marked by greenery and quiet waterways. He painted in most of the parks in and around Paris, and haunted its fringes where the city met the country.

An Orchard c.1896 appears to show a rural setting. However, the large building with slate roof and dormer windows, the whitewashed little villa and the well-pruned trees in the foreground suggest a scene in the market-gardening hinterland of the city. The apparent simplicity of such paintings appealed to some of Rousseau’s early admirers, who viewed him as a naïve folk artist.

The darkened skies and autumnal colours of An Orchard make it one of Rousseau’s more dramatic landscapes. By contrast, many of his Paris scenes are pervaded by a soft light that creates a sense of timelessness, far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There is rarely any sense of movement. This unreal quality is made more acute by Rousseau’s use of perspective so that figures often seem out of scale and unrelated to their surroundings.