If you ever find yourself in front of a painting by Henri Rousseau, as we did some weeks ago, you are bound to feel a bit queasy, as we did, because you will probably be, as we were, simultaneously charmed and spooked. First you smile, then you cock your head and give it a shake.
The world depicted by M Rousseau makes no sense, and in spite of that, or most likely because of that, it is beguiling, seductive, addictive. The more you look, the less you know for sure. His manual skill is adept and refined in many places (branches, leaves), and then you come across something that you think must have been done with his eyes closed and the brush attached to his elbow.
The composition and perspective are always completely wrong, but never in a way that suggests he actually knows what would be right, and the events, if that’s what they are, are simply wacky.
He seems to be making it up as he goes along, an improvisation by someone who knew the rules well enough to break them without breaking the spell cast by the people and places he has painted. Our awareness that things are terribly wrong here adds a tension that may be crucial to the enchantment. Maybe.
So few people in any field carve their own path, and of those, so few leave behind anything that strongly connects with anyone. M Henri Rousseau is an original whose work stands firmly within the palaces dedicated to the masters of modern art, yet this work seems to be alive and alien in a way that almost nothing else in that palace is.
The giants Picasso and Matisse are part of the family now and can be safely invited to dinner. M Rousseau? He is still the outsider who got in, and his work has never been tamed. Keep your eye on that one.