Henri Rousseau at Tate Modern

A major exhibition by the French artist Henri Rousseau has opened at Tate Modern prior to its showing in Paris and Washington next year.

Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo
Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo (1908)l
Oil on fabric; 170 x 189.5 cm; The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1949.186

There are almost fifty of his jungle paintings borrowed from America, Tokyo and European cities including Prague.

Rousseau was working at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. What is most remarkable is that Rousseau never left France let alone visited Africa. This work is the result of research which did not have the advantage of the internet or serious film and so the extensive display of his source material is a vital part of the show.

A page from Le Petit Journal dated April 1891 shows a traditional circle dance. His painting Centennial of Independence showing a similar dance is dated 1892. There is a photograph of football players in a Paris park known to Rousseau which may have inspired his almost cartoon Football Players oil in 1908.

The Football Players
The Football Players (1908); Oil on canvas; 100.5 x 80.3 cm; Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 60.1583

The dominant jungle paintings can also be amusing. One version of Monkeys in the Jungle could be mistaken for depicting monkeys blowing up ballooons. Merry Jesters has a parrot in the green foliage above the monkeys but at the bottom there is a milk bottle and a back scratcher suggesting that this is a mixture of jungle and zoo.

Research for the jungle included visits to museums with staffed animals and one such exhibit, an antilope being attacked by a lion, has been brought to the Tate. Nearby is Roussseau's The Hungry Lion with the animals in similar pose.

This is the first major Rousseau exhibition to be held in London for almost eighty years and a rare opportunity to see these paintings together.

• Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris is at Tate Modern until Sunday 5 February; admission 10 (conc 8).
• A book Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris by Chrsitopher Green and Tate curator Francis Morris (Tate Publishing; 35 hardback & 24.99 paperback) includes the first English translation of Rousseau's only interview.

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