Henri Rousseau's jungle paintings, an inspiration to young artists

Dec 8, 2009

A few years ago, I left the education field to open a shop.  Although I'm not in the classroom every day, I'm still passionate about arts education.  I try to do my part as a parent/arts educator by going into my daughters' classrooms several times a year and teaching lessons on drawing and painting. 

This week, I'll be teaching in my daughter's first grade class a lesson on landscape painting using the art of Henri Rousseau.  Rousseau is best known for his lush jungle paintings, and kids love his art for the bright colors and exotic creatures.

Tropical Forest with Monkeys, 1910, National Gallery of Art

French artist Henri Rousseau didn't actually pursue a career in art until his forties.  Rousseau was a self-taught artist and was mocked by art critics for his child-like painting.  At a Paris exhibition in 1905, he was showing one of his jungle paintings near an emerging artist's painting.  That painter was Henri Matisse, and from that exhibition and on, Matisse and other young French painters were called Les Fauves (wild beasts in French) by critics for their impulsive brushstrokes and use of bold colors .  Art historians believe that the term Les Fauves was derived from the nearby Rousseau painting showing wild animals in a jungle.   

Rousseau liked painting jungle scenes, but it is believed that he never ventured into a jungle.  His paintings were comprised of plants found in local botanical gardens and of creatures at the zoo.  He also looked through books for pictures of exotic animals. 

At my daughter's school, there's a great little courtyard with native plants.  I'm planning on having the kids draw observational sketches of the foliage to incorporate in their forest paintings.  Rousseau also used a lot of his own imagination in his paintings, such as fern-like trees, so I'm excited to see the children create new plants and creatures in their works. 

Virgin Forest at Sunset, 1907.

UPDATE: Some of the student work from the class lesson.


Anonymous said...

Lovely stuff; way to inspire nature and art in your children.

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