Henri Rousseau Myself

Henri Rousseau
Myself: Portrait Landscape 1890
Národní galerie v Praze

The works in this room show some of the ways in which Rousseau portrayed aspects of his own character. At different times he presented himself as a typical petit bourgeois Frenchman who took pride in his civil service position, a traditional Academic artist and devoted patriot, a loyal husband, and a simple painter at work with his easel.

Rousseau claimed to have invented the ‘portrait-landscape’ genre, in which a subject is defined by their surroundings. In Myself, Portrait-Landscape 1890, he presents himself on a monumental scale against the backdrop of Paris, using symbols of technological progress such as the Eiffel Tower and a hot air balloon to celebrate the city’s modernity. The artist’s poise, dress and context announce his ambition as an Academic painter worthy of paying tribute to this modern Republic.

In Painter and Model 1900–5, Rousseau appears complete with beret and easel, in a tranquil suburban setting. The model is likely to be his second wife Josephine Noury, whom he married in 1899, and the painting may have been intended as a wedding gift. By comparison to his grander self-portrait, this unpretentious image reflects the conventional values of those close to Rousseau at the outset of his career as an artist, a lower middle-class world of shopkeepers and artisans.

The two small portraits in this room have always been regarded as a pair, representing the painter and his second wife. 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. Indeed these particular portraits were acquired by the painter Robert Delaunay, and later purchased by Picasso.